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Posts Tagged ‘Eknath Easwaran’

 

child-soldier-empty-roadOnly as humanity comes to understand the implications of what occurred during this period of history will it be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. The value of the contribution we as Bahá’ís can make to the process demands that we ourselves grasp the significance of the historic transformation wrought by the twentieth century.

(Century of Light – page 0)

The recent sequence of workshops on unity that I am blogging about at the moment also has roots in the insights expressed in a book I delved into about two years ago. Here is the third post of eight. I will be posting them interwoven with the Becoming True Upholders of His Oneness sequence. Century of Light is this key text published by the Bahá’í World Centre designed to help us understand the challenges we face in the world today. If you prefer you can download this in PDF version (3 Components of Our Wreck). I learned a huge amount both from preparing these materials and from walking with others in the 2015 workshop along a path of intense exploration over a period of days. 

Reflecting on Quotations

We agreed in the first workshop that we would start the day today by trying out one way of building reflection on a quotation into our moments of quiet contemplation.

We need to sit comfortably in our chairs, our backs reasonably erect, both feet in contact with the floor and hands lying loosely in our lap. We need to spend a few moments withdrawing our attention from the outside world and instead focusing it on our breathing. This is probably most easily done by resting our full attention on the movement of our diaphragm. At the start, if it helps, we can use our rate of breathing to slow down our inward recitation of the passage we have memorised. When we are alone we can of course recite the passage out loud. If anyone has not yet memorised a passage it is fine to begin this process by reading it slowly and mindfully after settling quietly into a reflective state of mind.

Keeping our breathing steady and even, we should focus our entire attention upon each phrase as we read or recite it. As Easwaran points out (page 32) in his excellent book, in the end we have to find the pace that suits us best: ‘the space between words is a matter for each person to work out individually.… If the words come too close together, you will not be slowing down the mind… If the words stand too far apart, they will not be working together…’

If we find our mind has wandered, we should, without getting irritated with ourselves, begin the passage again at the beginning. This teaches the mind that it cannot getaway with wandering: there is a price to pay.

In these early stages we should consider ourselves very successful if we can meditate in this way upon a text for five minutes without losing our concentration. Our aim over a period of months could be to increase their concentration span to something like 20 minutes. Clearly this would enable us, if we wished, to memorise longer passages for reciting, rather than repeating the same short text. It is advisable to change the text we use each week to fend off the indifference which can come from overfamiliarity.

  1. Why would regularly experiencing the wisdom captured in words in this way be helpful to us?
  2. What was our experience like this time?

Group Work

Reminder: For each group discussion the group should choose a facilitator. It would be best to change the facilitator for each piece of group work over the series of workshops but the group will remain the same. During the consultation, the facilitator’s role is to keep track of the time, to ensure that:

  1. everyone contributes something,
  2. no one keeps repeating the same point, and
  3. no one makes excessively long contributions.

The group also needs to agree who will keep a record of the main points for when there is a report back to everyone at the end of the group consultation. The aim should be to make the report back no longer than five minutes.

Ukrainian government army soldiers examine weapons captured from rebels in the city of Slovyansk, Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine on July 5, 2014 (For source of image see link)

Ukrainian government army soldiers examine weapons captured from rebels in the city of Slovyansk, Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine on July 5, 2014 (For source of image see link)

Group One Task

The Evidence of a Corrosive Cultural Climate

Pages 1: The loss of life alone has been beyond counting. The disintegration of basic institutions of social order, the violation – indeed, the abandonment – of standards of decency, the betrayal of the life of the mind through surrender to ideologies as squalid as they have been empty, the invention and deployment of monstrous weapons of mass annihilation, the bankrupting of entire nations and the reduction of masses of human beings to hopeless poverty, the reckless destruction of the environment of the planet – such are the more obvious in a catalogue of horrors unknown to even the darkest of ages past.

This is a powerful indictment of our culture. We need to unpack some of the implications before we can move on to more positive perspectives.

  1. Where do see evidence of ‘the disintegration of basic institutions of social order’ and ‘the abandonment . . . of standards of decency’? Is there an antidote to this process?
  2. What do we think is meant by ‘betrayal of the life of the mind through surrender to ideologies as squalid as they have been empty’? How might that best be remedied?
  3. Are any of the other points unclear in their implications?

Pages 3-4: The vast majority of the human family, living in lands outside the Western world, shared in few of the blessings and little of the optimism of their European and American brethren. [Refers to China, India, Latin America, & Africa.] . . . Most tragic of all was the plight of the inhabitants of the African continent, divided against one another by artificial boundaries created through cynical bargains among European powers. It has been estimated that during the first decade of the twentieth century over a million people in the Congo perished – starved, beaten, worked literally to death for the profit of their distant masters, a preview of the fate that was to engulf well over one hundred million of their fellow human beings across Europe and Asia before the century reached its end.

These masses of humankind, despoiled and scorned – but representing most of the earth’s inhabitants – were seen not as protagonists but essentially as objects of the new century’s much vaunted civilising process. Despite benefits conferred on a minority among them, the colonial peoples existed chiefly to be acted upon – to be used, trained, exploited, Christianised, civilised, mobilised . . . . To a large extent, religious and political pieties of various kinds masked both ends and means from the publics in Western lands, who were thus able to derive moral satisfaction from the blessings their nations were assumed to be conferring on less worthy peoples, while themselves enjoying the material fruits of this benevolence.

Additional Information:

In his book The Bottom Billion (2007) Paul Collier explains there are at least 58 countries worldwide trapped in poverty, as a result of factors such as incessant conflict or bad governance. The total population of these countries at that time was 980 million people, seventy per cent of whom live in Africa.

In addition we can factor in the abuse of children in various ways (Universal House of Justice: Ridván 2000):

Our children . . . . should not be left to drift in a world so laden with moral dangers. In the current state of society, children face a cruel fate.

  • Millions and millions in country after country are dislocated socially.
  • Children find themselves alienated by parents and other adults whether they live in conditions of wealth or poverty.
  • This alienation has its roots in a selfishness that is born of materialism that is at the core of the godlessness seizing the hearts of people everywhere.
  • The social dislocation of children is in our time a sure mark of a society in decline; this condition is not, however, confined to any race, class, nation or economic condition – it cuts across them all.

It grieves our hearts to realise that in so many parts of the world children are

  • employed as soldiers,
  • exploited as labourers,
  • sold into virtual slavery,
  • forced into prostitution,
  • made objects of pornography,
  • abandoned by parents centred on their own desires, and
  • subjected to other forms of victimisation too numerous to mention.

Many such horrors are inflicted by parents themselves upon their own children. The spiritual and psychological damage defies estimation.

Additional Information from ten years ago:

26,575 children die every single day. Of the 62 countries making no progress or insufficient progress towards the Millennium Development Goal on child survival, nearly 75 per cent are in Africa. In some countries in southern Africa, the prevalence of HIV and AIDS has reversed previously recorded declines in child mortality. Achieving the goal in these countries will require a concerted effort. Reaching the target means reducing the number of child deaths from 9.7 million in 2006 to around 4 million by 2015. Accomplishing this will require accelerated action on multiple fronts: reducing poverty and hunger (MDG 1), improving maternal health (MDG 5), combating HIV and AIDS, malaria and other major diseases (MDG 6), increasing the usage of improved water and sanitation (MDG 7) and providing affordable essential drugs on a sustainable basis (MDG 8). It will also require a re-examination of strategies to reach the poorest, most marginalized communities.

Trafficking in children is a global problem affecting large numbers of children. Some estimates have as many as 1.2 million children being trafficked every year. There is a demand for trafficked children as cheap labour or for sexual exploitation. Children and their families are often unaware of the dangers of trafficking, believing that better employment and lives lie in other countries. Most child casualties are civilians. But one of the most deplorable developments in recent years has been the increasing use of young children as soldiers. In one sense, this is not really new. For centuries children have been involved in military campaigns—as child ratings on warships, or as drummer boys on the battlefields of Europe. Indeed the word ‘infantry’, for foot-soldiers, can also mean a group of young people. What is frightening nowadays is the escalation in the use of children as fighters. Recently, in 25 countries, thousands of children under the age of 16 have fought in wars. In 1988 alone, they numbered as many as 200,000. And while children might be thought to be the people deserving greatest protection, as soldiers they are often considered the most expendable. During the Iran-Iraq war, child soldiers, for example, were sent out ahead in waves over minefields.

  1. How do you think that we managed to disguise from ourselves the iniquity of what we were doing in all these areas for so long and why has Africa come out of it all so badly?
  2. Have we now moved past that period of exploitation, neglect and abuse, or is it still happening? If it is, why does it persist?
  3. If we have moved on to some degree, how did we do it?
  4. Why is the harm we have been doing to our children a crucially important issue for us to address urgently, probably as urgently as climate change if not more so?
  5. What does all this tell us about the size of the task still ahead, if we are to turn things round completely?

Group Two Task

Materialism

Page 6: Where winds of change did dispel the mists, among the educated classes in Western lands, inherited orthodoxies were all too often replaced by the blight of an aggressive secularism that called into doubt both the spiritual nature of humankind and the authority of moral values themselves. Everywhere, the secularisation of society’s upper levels seemed to go hand in hand with a pervasive religious obscurantism among the general population.

Page 89: Fathered by nineteenth century European thought, acquiring enormous influence through the achievements of American capitalist culture, and endowed by Marxism with the counterfeit credibility peculiar to that system, materialism emerged full-blown in the second half of the twentieth century as a kind of universal religion claiming absolute authority in both the personal and social life of humankind. Its creed was simplicity itself. Reality – including human reality and the process by which it evolves – is essentially material in nature. The goal of human life is, or ought to be, the satisfaction of material needs and wants. Society exists to facilitate this quest, and the collective concern of humankind should be an ongoing refinement of the system, aimed at rendering it ever more efficient in carrying out its assigned task.

Page 135: There has not been a society in the history of the world, no matter how pragmatic, experimentalist and multiform it may have been, that did not derive its thrust from some foundational interpretation of reality. Such a system of thought reigns today virtually unchallenged across the planet, under the nominal designation “Western civilisation”. Philosophically and politically, it presents itself as a kind of liberal relativism; economically and socially, as capitalism – two value systems that have now so adjusted to each other and become so mutually reinforcing as to constitute virtually a single, comprehensive world-view.

Appreciation of the benefits – in terms of the personal freedom, social prosperity and scientific progress enjoyed by a significant minority of the Earth’s people – cannot withhold a thinking person from recognizing that the system is morally and intellectually bankrupt. It has contributed its best to the advancement of civilisation, as did all its predecessors, and, like them, is impotent to deal with the needs of a world never imagined by the eighteenth century prophets who conceived most of its component elements. Shoghi Effendi did not limit his attention to divine right monarchies, established churches or totalitarian ideologies when he posed the searching question: “Why should these, in a world subject to the immutable law of change and decay, be exempt from the deterioration that must needs overtake every human institution?”

Page 136: Tragically, what Bahá’ís see in present-day society is unbridled exploitation of the masses of humanity by greed that excuses itself as the operation of “impersonal market forces“. What meets their eyes everywhere is the destruction of moral foundations vital to humanity’s future, through gross self-indulgence masquerading as “freedom of speech”. What they find themselves struggling against daily is the pressure of a dogmatic materialism, claiming to be the voice of “science“, that seeks systematically to exclude from intellectual life all impulses arising from the spiritual level of human consciousness.

These are key paragraphs for us to understand thoroughly if we are to grasp the importance and true nature of a more spiritual path forward.

Blake Newton

Additional Information:

From A Compilation on Scholarship: Baha’i Reference Library):

Just as there is a fundamental difference between divine Revelation itself and the understanding that believers have of it, so also there is a basic distinction between scientific fact and reasoning on the one hand and the conclusions or theories of scientists on the other. There is, and can be, no conflict between true religion and true science: true religion is revealed by God, while it is through true science that the mind of man “discovers the realities of things and becomes cognizant of their peculiarities and effects, and of the qualities and properties of beings” and “comprehendeth the abstract by the aid of the concrete”. However, whenever a statement is made through the lens of human understanding it is thereby limited, for human understanding is limited; and where there is limitation there is the possibility of error; and where there is error, conflicts can arise.

Medina, in his book Faith, Physics & Psychology, explains that he sees the current worldview as destructively rooted in the thinking of Descartes and Newton. He refers to it throughout as the ‘Cartesian-Newtonian worldview.’ Descartes split mind from body, which he considered to be a machine. He considered that all true understanding derived from analysis (splitting into components) and logic. Add to this Newton’s determinism (we can predict anything from our knowledge both of its starting state and the operation of immutable universal laws) and, in Medina’s view, we have the current, in his view pernicious, Cartesian-Newtonian worldview (page 14):

. . . . this classical science worldview is based on a mechanistic view of human beings and the universe that alienates human beings from their spiritual, moral, and emotional faculties. It has divided the world into mutually exclusive opposing forces: the dichotomies of science versus religion, reason versus faith, logic versus intuition, natural versus supernatural, material versus spiritual, and secular versus sacred. The result is a materialistic worldview that emphasises the truth of science, reason, logic, the natural, the material, and the secular while ignoring or even denigrating the truth of religion, faith, intuition, the supernatural, the spiritual, and the sacred.

Medina goes on to unpack what for him at least are the limitations of ‘secular spirituality’ which (page 94) ‘do not necessarily promote an altruistic social ethic or a desire on the part of individuals to improve society for the benefit of all.’ He includes ‘religious fundamentalism’ (page 95-96) under this umbrella ‘because it represents an attempt to use religion as a vehicle to fulfil worldly desires for leadership or power or as a justification for ungodly acts such as forced conversion of pagans or warfare against infidels.’

He goes on to state that our version of Christianity has contributed to the problems the Cartesian-Newtonian worldview creates (page 129) as a result of its concept of ‘an all-transcendent God Who is essentially divorced from the cursed natural world.’ He concludes (pages 129-30):

It is my belief that an extremist form of Christian theism actually worked hand-in-hand with the Cartesian-Newtonian worldview to promulgate a false sense of separation between the spiritual and the material and between the sacred and the secular.

It is important to stress that he is not criticising the true essence of Christianity here, simply some of its more extreme distortions with their destructive consequences.

For those interested in a more mainstream Christian take on the matter see God, Humanity & the Cosmos (Southgate et al: pages 95-98): they too conclude that a mechanical view of the world prevailed as a result of the success of this Descartes/Newton fusion, and this then negatively affected economics and political theory as well as religion and our view of ourselves. 

  1. Why do we think secularism and religious obscurantism might go hand in hand in the way described here?
  2. What are the achievements of American capitalism and what makes them so persuasive given the damage the system seems to be causing?
  3. How can materialism, dogmatic or otherwise, be effectively a religion? What are the parallels?
  4. What is ‘liberal relativism’ and how has it been fostered by a materialist world view? How does this philosophical and moral approach make such a perfect marriage with capitalism? Do we agree that this arrangement is bankrupt?
  5. Are market forces not really impersonal?
  6. Are science and materialism not really in tune?

Report Back: One member of each group explains their conclusions and what they have learnt. Their group members can join in to field whatever questions and comments come their way.

Compensating Accomplishments

Pages 4-5: To point out the failings of a great civilisation is not to deny its accomplishments. As the twentieth century opened, the peoples of the West could take justifiable pride in the technological, scientific and philosophical developments for which their societies had been responsible. . . . . A continuous process of discovery, design and improvement was making accessible power of unimaginable magnitude – with, alas, ecological consequences equally unimagined at the time – especially through the use of cheap fuel and electricity.

Page 5: Changes taking place at the deeper level of scientific thought were even more far-reaching in their implications. The nineteenth century had still been held in the grip of the Newtonian view of the world as a vast clockwork system, but by the end of the century the intellectual strides necessary to challenge that view had already been taken. New ideas were emerging that would lead to the formulation of quantum mechanics; and before long the revolutionising effect of the theory of relativity would call into question beliefs about the phenomenal world that had been accepted as common sense for centuries.

  1. How do we feel about the advantages they quote? Why aren’t they enough to turn our society round and avert the crisis towards which we seem to be hurtling?
  2. In what ways do we think new scientific paradigms may have changed our perspective on reality?

Where now?

. . . . . As the twentieth century opened, Western civilisation was reaping the fruits of a philosophical culture that was rapidly liberating the energies of its populations, and whose influence would soon produce a revolutionary impact throughout the entire world.

More on all this next time.

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Candle ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Only as humanity comes to understand the implications of what occurred during this period of history will it be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. The value of the contribution we as Bahá’ís can make to the process demands that we ourselves grasp the significance of the historic transformation wrought by the twentieth century.

(Century of Light – page 0)

The recent sequence of workshops on unity that I am blogging about at the moment also has roots in the insights expressed in a book I delved into about two years ago. Here is the first post of eight. I will be posting them interwoven with the Becoming True Upholders of His Oneness sequence. Century of Light is this key text published by the Bahá’í World Centre designed to help us understand the challenges we face in the world today. If you prefer you can download this post’s material in PDF version (1 Our Roles in the World). I learned a huge amount both from preparing these materials and from walking with others in the 2015 workshop along a path of intense exploration over a period of days.

The Overview

Century of Light challenges both every Bahá’í and all other citizens of this changing world, to gain a clear understanding of the conditions that face us, now that the processes of the 20th Century have done their work. What we will hope to achieve in this series of workshops is:

  1. To understand something of those processes;
  2. To begin to understand what they are compelling us to do in consequence;
  3. To glimpse at least in part how the vision of three key agents of change – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice –can enable us all to rise more effectively to the challenges that confront us.

This first session will touch on all these themes at some point, but will mainly focus on the relationship between what the Bahá’ís are attempting to do and what the rest of humankind needs to do.

___________________________________________________________

Memorising (to be read in your own time after the session)

Eknath Easwaran

Eknath Easwaran

Socrates was very concerned about the invention of the alphabet and the reading it brought with it. He feared that human memory would be destroyed. What he would have had to say about the iPhone and the internet I can barely begin to imagine.

The Faith attaches great importance to memorising quotations from the Bahá’í Writings. There are several reasons for this, including the usefulness of such quotations in conversation to convey the ideas of the Faith in their original form rather than in one’s own translation. Another key reason, in addition to the benefits of enhancing the power of our memory, something which our reliance on electronic devices is seriously diminishing, is that the internalisation of truths in this way changes our inner being to some degree. We can enhance that effect by using, in our quiet periods of meditation, the quotations we have memorised.

These are significant benefits, as Eknath Easwaran explains in his excellent and accessible book Meditation: common sense directions for an uncommon life

Among the advice he gives is this (Pages 39-40):

In meditation, the passage becomes imprinted on our consciousness. As we drive it deeper and deeper, the words come to life within us, transforming all our thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds. . . . . As you commit a new passage to memory, it is good to spend some time reflecting on the meaning of the words and their practical application to your life. But please don’t do this while you are actually meditating. . . . . And avoid choosing passages that are negative, that take a harsh and difficult view of the body, of our past mistakes, or of life in the world. We want to draw on our positive side, our higher Self, and the passages should move you to become steadfast, compassionate, and wise.

Lasse Thoresen, in his thoughtful book Unlocking the Gate of the Heart which explores meditation from a Bahá’í viewpoint, reinforces basically the same idea (pages 91-92):

Whether we are conscious of it or not, a passage we know by heart will always be with us wherever we may go, whether we are asleep or awake. We have fed our subconscious with the words of God, allowing them to work within us and appear in our consciousness when we have need for them, perhaps as a part of new insight.

It seemed a good idea therefore to introduce right at the start of this sequence of workshops a technique for making memorising easier. The method I am quoting here has been adapted from a way of memorising poetry. I sorry to say that I have no record of whose original idea I have borrowed here.

This is the method:

How to Learn Passages: 

  1. Read the passage once. Then divide it into convenient short sections, each equivalent to a line of poetry.
  2. Now read the first section out loud. Take your eyes from the page and immediately say the section again. Glance back to make sure you got it right. If you made a mistake, try again. Now do the same with the second section. Repeat the procedure for every section in the passage.
  3. Go back to the beginning. This time, read the first two sections out loud, look away and repeat them aloud. Check. If you made a mistake, try again. Now move onto the next two sections, going through the whole passage two sections at a time.
  4. Repeat the passage three sections at a time, then four sections at a time, then five and then six. By the sixth pass, no matter how long the passage, you will have memorised it.
  5. Recite the whole passage just before going to bed at night.
  6. Crucial: stop thinking about the passage. Your sleeping mind is very important for memory.
  7. The next day, you should find (after a glance at the first section to bump-start your memory) that you can recite the whole passage.

In using this method I have found it important, if I am to retain the whole passage permanently, I need to slowly reduce the frequency of repeating it over a reasonable period of time. At first, perhaps for a week, I repeat it every night. Then every other, then every third night and so on until I repeat it only once per week. I can then choose to use it whenever I wish in my daily meditations. It is important to keep it fresh by revisiting it occasionally, maybe once every month or two in this way. We’ll be talking about how to build a memorised passage into a daily meditation later.

I would like to ask everyone to choose, perhaps from the ones we’ll be using today, a passage from Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings – for a Bahá’í these are the most powerful, along with the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, for developing spiritual insight – and then use the method above to commit it to memory. We will be looking tomorrow at an approach to using a memorised passage in quiet reflection.

_____________________________________________________________________

A. Dipping our Toes in the Deep Water

It is easier to clarify what we need to be doing, if we first look at a quotation from a message of the Universal House of Justice to all those gathered on Mount Carmel to mark the completion of the project there on 24th May 2001:

Humanity’s crying need will not be met by a struggle among competing ambitions or by protest against one or another of the countless wrongs afflicting a desperate age. It calls, rather, for a fundamental change of consciousness, for a wholehearted embrace of Bahá’u’lláh’s teaching that the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family. Commitment to this revolutionizing principle will increasingly empower individual believers and Bahá’í institutions alike in awakening others to the Day of God and to the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world.

Taking this together with a longer quotation from the Century of Light helps us gain a better understanding of what is meant here (page 94):

Realisation of the uniqueness of what Bahá’u’lláh has brought into being opens the imagination to the contribution that the Cause can make to the unification of humankind and the building of a global society. The immediate responsibility of establishing world government rests on the shoulders of the nation-states. What the Bahá’í community is called on to do, at this stage in humanity’s social and political evolution, is to contribute by every means in its power to the creation of conditions that will encourage and facilitate this enormously demanding undertaking. In the same way that Bahá’u’lláh assured the monarchs of His day that “It is not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms”, so the Bahá’í community has no political agenda, abstains from all involvement in partisan activity, and accepts unreservedly the authority of civil government in public affairs. Whatever concern Bahá’ís may have about current conditions or about the needs of their own members is expressed through constitutional channels.

The power that the Cause possesses to influence the course of history thus lies not only in the spiritual potency of its message but in the example it provides. “So powerful is the light of unity,” Bahá’u’lláh asserts, “that it can illuminate the whole earth.” The oneness of humankind embodied in the Faith represents, as Shoghi Effendi emphasized, “no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope”. The organic unity of the body of believers – and the Administrative Order that makes it possible – are evidences of what Shoghi Effendi termed “the society-building power which their Faith possesses.”

Questions for General Discussion (to orient us to some of the issues we will be returning to in more detail later)

To tackle these questions briefly at this point, we need to break into four groups – one for each question. We’ll use the counting system for this, everyone numbering off from 1 to 4. Notes should be taken of the points made to they can be reported back to everyone at the end of the consultation period.

  1. Our society seems to have built its institutions around adversarial processes – political parties in parliament, prosecution and defence in a courtroom and competing contenders in the global market place. Do we agree that this kind of approach will no longer solve our problems? If so, why not? If not, how can they ever succeed?
  2. Does the solution put forward by the Universal House of Justice seem likely to be more effective, ie that ‘each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family’? If so, how? If not, why not?
  3. The role of Bahá’ís in relation to others is at least partly captured in the words of the House when they say Bahá’ís should be ‘awakening others to the Day of God and to the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world.’ How easy is that going to be? What problems might lie ahead as Bahá’ís try to do that, both within the Bahá’í community and in the wider community as well? How are those problems to be transcended?
  4. We will be returning later in these workshops to the question of a world government. Clearly many problems lie ahead in terms of the eventual realisation of that idea. At this point can we speculate a little as to what conditions might ‘encourage and facilitate this enormously demanding undertaking’? Given that a Bahá’í ‘abstains from all involvement in partisan activity’ how exactly would the Bahá’í community create the necessary conditions for world government to be realised?

 

Unity

Getting a Glimpse of Unity

(Page 68): In acknowledging the darkness that widespread godlessness, violence and creeping immorality was engendering, Shoghi Effendi described the role that Bahá’ís everywhere must play as instruments of the transforming power of the new Revelation:

Theirs is the duty to hold, aloft and undimmed, the torch of Divine guidance, as the shades of night descend upon, and ultimately envelop the entire human race. Theirs is the function, amidst its tumults, perils and agonies, to witness to the vision, and proclaim the approach, of that re-created society, that Christ-promised Kingdom, that World Order whose generative impulse is the spirit of none other than Bahá’u’lláh Himself, whose dominion is the entire planet, whose watchword is unity, whose animating power is the force of Justice, whose directive purpose is the reign of righteousness and truth, and whose supreme glory is the complete, the undisturbed and everlasting felicity of the whole of human kind.

Before we look at a quotation from Bahá’u’lláh as a way of going even more deeply into the core concept animating the Bahá’í community and which we believe to be the key principle upon which the whole world now needs to operate, we need to consider briefly the quotation above, particularly the words of Shoghi Effendi, someone whose exact significance in the Faith and whose writings we will be returning to in more detail in a later workshop. He is describing the exact nature of the torch Bahá’ís believe we are holding high up in the darkness of these difficult days: the ‘dominion’ is the ‘entire planet,’ the ‘watchword is unity,’ and it will benefit the ‘whole of human kind’ animated by ‘the force of Justice’ and directed by the aim ‘of righteousness and truth.’

What do we feel is the relationship between these ideas? Is there an organising principle that holds them together? If so, what is it? If not why are they placed here in such close association?

It may be useful also to bear in mind the words of Bahá’u’lláh when He wrote:

This Wronged One exhorteth the peoples of the world to observe tolerance and righteousness, which are two lights amidst the darkness of the world and two educators for the edification of mankind. Happy are they who have attained thereto and woe betide the heedless.

(Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh: page 36)

And likewise He saith: The heaven of true understanding shineth resplendent with the light of two luminaries: tolerance and righteousness.

O my friend! Vast oceans lie enshrined within this brief saying. Blessed are they who appreciate its value, drink deep therefrom and grasp its meaning, and woe betide the heedless. This lowly one entreateth the people of the world to observe fairness, that their tender, their delicate and precious hearing which hath been created to hearken unto the words of wisdom may be freed from impediments and from such allusions, idle fancies or vain imaginings as ‘cannot fatten nor appease the hunger’, so that the true Counsellor may be graciously inclined to set forth that which is the source of blessing for mankind and of the highest good for all nations.

(ibid: page 170)

Does this help in integrating the elements referred to by Shoghi Effendi?

Beginning to Unpack Some Implications

Perhaps most importantly of all we read:

O CHILDREN OF MEN! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.

(Bahá’u’lláh – Arabic Hidden Words No. 68)

We will be returning once more to this topic in later workshops.

  1. So, briefly, what do we think it means to be ‘even as one soul’?
  2. What might be the connection between ‘oneness’ and ‘detachment’?
  3. How important is it that our actions and our ‘inmost being’ should harmonise?

This is dealt with to some degree in more straightforward prose in Century of Light (pages 114 & 136):

Bahá’u’llah’s mission is not limited to the building of the Bahá’í community. The Revelation of God has come for the whole of humanity, and it will win the support of the institutions of society to the extent that they find in its example encouragement and inspiration for their efforts to lay the foundations of a just society.

. . . . . for a Bahá’í the ultimate issues are spiritual. The Cause is not a political party nor an ideology, much less an engine for political agitation against this or that social wrong. The process of transformation it has set in motion advances by inducing a fundamental change of consciousness, and the challenge it poses to everyone who would serve it is to free oneself from attachment to inherited assumptions and preferences that are irreconcilable with the Will of God for humanity’s coming of age.

For these two questions Groups 1 and 3 combine together to tackle question (1), as do groups 2 and 4 to tackle question (2). Note taking and reporting to be as before.

  1. Why might it be necessary to ‘free oneself from attachment to inherited assumptions and preferences’ before we can move forward in the way that God requires of us?
  2. How does the harmony between our inner being and our actions empower our example?

The Beginnings of a Breakthrough?

This is something to which we will return in more detail after the third workshop, which will look at the components of the wreck that we were left with in the last century and whose negative influence persists to some extent to this day.

Page 99: Although the breakdown of society was creating problems for Bahá’í administrative institutions, a related effect was to generate a greatly increased interest in the message of the Cause. . . .

As believers from urban centres set out on sustained campaigns to reach the mass of the world’s peoples living in villages and rural areas, they encountered a receptivity to Bahá’u’lláh’s message far beyond anything they had imagined possible.

Page 138: Shoghi Effendi describes this process of world unification as the “Major Plan” of God, whose operation will continue, gathering force and momentum, until the human race has been united in a global society that has banished war and taken charge of its collective destiny. What the struggles of the twentieth century achieved was the fundamental change of direction the Divine purpose required. The change is irreversible. There is no way back to an earlier state of affairs, however greatly some elements of society may, from time to time, be tempted to seek one.

The importance of the historic breakthrough that has thus occurred is in no way minimized by recognition that the process has barely begun.

Discuss, keeping to the same two groups, allocating questions on the same basis. Note taking and reporting to be as before.

  1. Why do we think that the receptivity to Bahá’u’lláh’s message should have been so significantly increased?
  2. The Major Plan of God, as we will come to understand in more detail, is for the whole of humanity to carry forward. Do we all feel, looking back on our own experiences, that there was a fundamental change of direction in the 20th Century?

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Dream GameNow that I appear to have made some progress in developing a closer relationship with my Parliament of Selves, it seems a good time to try and talk to them in more detail about learning to reflect more effectively. The trouble is I can’t find them in dreamland anymore. Since they faded away after our encounter with Indira Pindance, they have been conspicuous by their absence, both in meditation and sleep. Part of the reason for this may be that my dreams in general are more elusive. On waking I seldom remember more than a rapidly evaporating fragment.

That’s why I have pulled my battered copy of The Dream EaswaranGame by Ann Faraday off my dream book shelf. If Eknath Easwaran’s book is my Tao Te Ching on meditation, then The Dream Game is the Analects of my dream world. I decide to follow her advice (page 43):

People frequently complain that dreams are not coming to them as much as they would like, and when I ask are they writing them down, they plead that other obligations have been too pressing – to which I answer that your dreaming mind knows very well how seriously you are taking it and reacts accordingly.

She’s nailed it. I’ve been far too busy to pay attention to my dreams, let alone go to all the trouble of writing them down. Part of the problem is unavoidable. I have commitments to keep. But part of it is self-inflicted. I have so many interests. I am constantly beset by the fear that if I don’t keep reading new stuff on a favourite topic I’ll not KUTD – sorry, keep up to date – so not only do I fail to go deeply enough into what I’m reading about, but I also distract myself constantly from things that are probably more important.

Ring and BookSo, straightaway, after reading Faraday’s words, I promise my dreaming mind I will really listen tonight, and write down what I see and hear. To help, as I settle in bed, I pick up my copy of The Ring & the Book, Robert Browning’s novel in verse, a breath-taking and brilliant exploration of a series of dramatic historical events in 17th century Rome.

The last time I was reading it some days ago, I had just finished Book VI of the twelve, which is Giuseppe Caponsacchi’s movingly sympathetic account of the events that led to the mortal wounding of Pompilia, and the stabbing to death of her adoptive parents. I have put off reading Book VII till now. It is the dying Pompilia’s version of events. I thought a bit of previously avoided heart-rending reading might stir me to pay more attention to my unconscious mind’s creativity.

I am just seventeen years and five months old,
And, if I live one day more, three full weeks.

As usual, right from the first words, Browning’s empathic magic has captured me in his narrative grip. Even so I eventually become too tired to read more. I switch off the light and remind my dreaming mind of my sincere intentions.

It doesn’t take long. Soon, I find I am walking with Frederick Mires, my psychology-mad alter ego, and William Wordless, my poet manqué persona. The others are nowhere in sight right now.

Redwood Grove

We’re on a path in Queen’s Wood, I think, near the stand of California Redwoods, except that their trunks are purple and the needles of their leaves orange. We’re heading for the cafe at the car park.

‘You’re looking a bit upset,’ I say to Mires who’s been walking silently with his face twisted into a two-year-old’s sulk.

‘You’re throwing books away again,’ he spits, facing me fiercely as he says it.

‘Why would that worry you,’ I ask. ‘You’re always rushing from one book to the next, never going back once you’ve squeezed all the juice you can find at the time into the blog.’

‘You never know when you might need to go back to a book again to check a point or fill out the argument.’

‘What are you going to do with your poetry books?’ Wordless asks with a worried expression on his face. ‘They’re the only ones worth keeping. You can read them over and over again and still find new meanings in them. Novels and text books – once read and completely digested, chuck ’em away.’

‘It’s hard going, but I am slowly working out which books are worth keeping because I really will need them again, and which books were a one-time only read. It’s often a question of whether there are any highlights or scribbled notes in the book at all. If not, and I’ve obviously read it, I’m not likely to read it again. I just don’t have the space to hold all my books accessibly. Some of them are double-stacked.’

I don’t mention my feelings of guilt at being a bookaholic hoarder.

‘You’ll live to regret it,’ Mires warns. ‘You’ve done this before remember, and wished you hadn’t when you needed a book you’d discarded.’

‘The point is,’ I insist, ‘that even if I live another 15 years or more, with over a thousand books, I’d have to read at the rate of over a book a week, just to savour all my old ones all over again. And many of them would take more than a week to read. And what about the new books I’ll find that I want to read?’

‘You’re not understanding my point.’ Mires has the bit between his teeth. ‘You won’t need to re-read the whole book if all you require is to check out a reference in it. But if you haven’t got it you’ll waste a lot of time chasing it up again.’

‘Why don’t you simplify things and just do what I suggest. Keep all your poetry books and throw away the rest.’ A massive grin spread over Wordless’s face. ‘My gift for rhyme is returning!’

Broad and Deep01‘Now you’re the one who is missing the point. Look, both of you. The issue is this. I have a broad range of interests – mind, nature, science, literature, art, history, religion, mysticism, near death experiences, politics, biography, music, to name only the most obvious. It’s almost too broad, as I want to explore most of these topics in depth. To really go deep I have to narrow my focus and specialise. To cover a broad area of interest, which is what I really want to do, I have to be relatively shallow. So, I keep rushing from book to book most of the time, never really taking the time to savour any of them properly. But I don’t like narrow or shallow. I want broad and deep. I want to have the best of both worlds. I want to have my cake and eat it too, I guess.’

‘The days when that was possible are long gone,’ Mires retorts. ‘Goethe was probably the last great poet who could also be a real scientist. Knowledge has expanded too much. There’ll be no more Renaissance minds from now on, I think. If you try, you just end up a Jack of all trades and master of none. And let’s face it Goethe was a genius, and you’re not. That’s one of the many reasons I keep focused on psychology and try to forget the rest.’

‘And why I concentrate only on poetry,’ Wordless can’t resist chipping in.

‘But you’re both a part of me and that’s the problem, don’t you see?’

They glumly have to agree and they don’t like it. To please them both, I have to spread myself too thin and do broad and shallow. Very frustrating!

‘And when we finally meet up with Emma and Chris it’ll only get worse. She’s into social action and politics, and Chris is fixated on mystical states. I’m not sure about Indira. I don’t know her too well as yet.’

I pause for breath, trying to let my mouth catch up with my mind. ‘This is why we need to find another way of experiencing things. That’s one of the reasons I’m trying to learn how to reflect better, so I can extract every possible drop of meaning from every moment, whether it’s from a book, a conversation, a new place or whatever.’

‘Here we go again. Back on the reflection bandwagon,’ Mires mocks.

Just at that point we join the main path back to the cafe, with the games and picnic area on our left and the redwood grove in the middle distance on our right. It’s a cold day for the picnic area, which must be populated only by those with Scandinavian ancestry. As we look ahead we see Indira Pindance, our vulnerable new friend, and Emma Pancake, activist and pamphleteer, huddled at a table near the cafe wall, out of the wind, using steaming cups to warm their hands. They appear to be waiting for us.

(To be continued next Monday)

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EaswaranMorning meditation is very important to me for reasons I’ve explained elsewhere. I do struggle with remaining focused on what I have decided to practice, whether that be following the breath Buddhist-style, mindfulness after the fashion of Williams and Penman, or a kind of Bahá’í mantram which involves mindfully repeating Alláh-u-Abhá 95 times. Although beads are not recommended by Easwaran for such an exercise, I have found using them works far better for me than any other method of keeping track of the numbers.

The first few repetitions have gone well up till now, and then they start up again, the voluble quartet inside my head.

‘At least he hasn’t started expanding his meditation time yet, Williams and Penmanwhich is a relief.’ Christopher Humfreeze is eating his breakfast in the dining room. The bags under his eyes are darker than usual, but his kaftan is bright and shining. The other three have joined him, which is unusual. I haven’t known them all eat together in this way before.

‘We agreed that we would all meet up for breakfast today to discuss what we’re going to do about his reflection plan. Are you all happy to carry on? No one has changed their mind?’

Emma Pancake, William Wordless and Frederick Mires all nod, but not enthusiastically.

‘You look a bit tired, Chris,’ Pancake observes sympathetically.

‘I haven’t slept well for the last few nights to tell you the truth. I just can’t see how we are going to make a plan that will work. And it’s not just that he’s going to resist it as far as he can if he doesn’t like it. In fact, it’s more to do with the differences between us.’

‘How do mean, Chris?’ asks Wordless, through a mouthful of porridge, a few specks of which fly onto Humfreeze’s new kaftan, much to his disgust.

That was not a good start, given that the two of them are usually at odds anyway under the best of circumstances.

‘Well, I hope I don’t offend anyone but there are two of us here, at the far end of the Entish spectrum. We are bent on taking our time in our own way on our different projects. The other two of us, the Hurry Up brigade, like to get as many things done as fast as possible. If this table were a car and we the passenger-drivers, both you, Emmie, and you, Fred, would have your feet on the accelerator, pushing it down for all you were worth, practically standing on it in fact. Admittedly you’d be wrenching the steering wheel in different directions but that’s just another hurdle for us to get over. Bill and I, on the other hand, would be heaving on the handbrake and pressing the brake pedal at the same time as hard as we possibly could. We are each one another’s Opposition. How are we ever going to agree on what to do in such a serious situation as this is becoming?’

‘I see where you are coming from, Chris,’ says Mires slowly and thoughtfully, ‘but I think that’s only a small part of the problem. I think we might have another even more difficult problem on our hands. Think about this. We know about each other because he knows about all of us. But what if there are others inside his head that none of us know about including him.’

‘What on earth are you talking about, Fred? That sounds like your usual improbable psychobabble’ Pancake cuts in.

The Conscious Universe IRM‘Well, I don’t want to get bogged down in too much detail, but you know I have studied the human mind for more than thirty years now. . . ’

All heads tilt back and all eyes rise heavenwards except mine, as I’m not sure what might happen to them if I did the same.

‘. . . and I’ve read in many places that a person can contain coherent motivated structures within the mind with an agenda of their own that the owner of the mind doesn’t even know about.’

A puzzled expression slowly takes shape on Pancake’s face.

‘Now if there are such entities in here with us that he doesn’t know about, we may not know about them either, though I admit that sometimes the people in a person’s head can know about each other even if the mind that contains them hasn’t a clue.’

Pancake is plainly baffled. Wordless looks sceptical: poets know their own mind, surely.

‘But if there were any others in here that mattered we should have had some idea they were there, even if we couldn’t sense them, because things would happen that we couldn’t explain otherwise and I’ve never felt that way,’ offers Humfreeze, predictably at odds with Mires.

At this point the completely unexpected happens.

‘Do you mind if I join in this conversation?’ I ask.

There is a long and stunned silence.

‘Hello,’ I repeat. ‘Is there anybody there anymore? Have I frightened you all off?’

‘Er, we’re all . .’ began Mires.

‘. . . . here,’ stuttered Wordless.

‘This is amazing,’ shrieks Pancake. ‘Maybe we’re really not all there in a different sense.’

Humfreeze has gone quite pale, in fact almost green, as though he is seasick.

‘I have been longing for this day,’ he finally manages to say, ‘but I thought that it would never happen. I thought we were all too far apart. This is a huge shock to me, so much of a shock that, even though I am delighted, I feel thunderstruck.’

Pancake, probably for the first time ever, gets up from her place at table and moves closer to Humfreeze and puts her arm around his shoulders.

‘Doesn’t this say something wonderful about us? Doesn’t it say we have done something almost unique? We have grown so close we can communicate clearly across the threshold between the conscious and the unconscious.’

She sounds exultant, almost intoxicated with the thought.

‘I believe you are right,’ I confirm, almost equally delighted, and also strangely moved, as though I were meeting someone I dearly loved after a long separation. There are tears in my eyes, in fact. ‘Perhaps this is meant to happen now because it needs to happen. Perhaps Fred is right. Perhaps there are forces at work below our consciousness, which we can only tackle together. Even the four of you are not enough, and I certainly couldn’t do it alone. Perhaps we’ll become another Famous Five.’

I’ve always had a tendency to get ahead of myself.

‘But what kind of forces could these possibly be?’ asks Wordless.

Snowman‘Well, I’ve had one experience before where something previously hidden burst into consciousness, initially in a dream. You remember? I’ve blogged about it, calling it the Iceman. I even tried to catch some of the feeling about it in a poem called The Freezer.

They all nod. ‘We remember,’ they chime.

‘So, do you agree with me, then, that there is probably something or someone there we need to deal with?’ asks Fred.

‘I definitely think it’s possible, yes,’ is my reply.

‘Scary,’ says Pancake, ‘but fascinating. What do we need to do to find out?’

‘Keep watch and compare notes,’ I reckon,’ is the best that I can suggest.’

‘Is that a deal everyone?’ asks Fred. They all nod enthusiastically if somewhat anxiously.

My phone chimes that my 30 minutes meditation period is up. The four figures at their breakfast fade into the intruding daylight as I open my eyes. I put my beads away in the right hand drawer of my desk wondering where on earth this is going to lead.

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Builth

On the way to the venue the first morning

Last weekend I was fortunate to be able to participate in a meditation weekend at Builth Wells. The experience was organised so that three facilitators shared their sense of how the meditative faculty might be facilitated with three groups of about fifteen people who moved from facilitator to facilitator over the course of the weekend.  Hopefully everyone found something from among the experiences shared that helped them move further down the road of exploring this special state of mind. I thought it might be worth sharing the basic notes used to structure the sessions I was involved in. So, here they are with a few pictures thrown in for good measure. 

First Session

Overview (15 minutes)

The wine of renunciation must needs be quaffed, the lofty heights of detachment must needs be attained, and the meditation referred to in the words “One hour’s reflection is preferable to seventy years of pious worship” must needs be observed . . . .”

(Kitáb-i-Íqán – page 238 US edition, page 152 UK edition)

O CHILDREN OF MEN! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.

(Bahá’u’lláh – Arabic Hidden Words No. 68)

This weekend gives an opportunity to explore different approaches to what is usually referred to as meditation. Many years ago, when I was exploring Buddhism, I discovered that it might not be wise to advocate any one form of meditation as suitable for everyone. A school of Tibetan Buddhism had an approach that surprised me at the time. Each novice monk or nun who enrolled in this order was each given their own unique meditative path on the grounds that no two people will benefit from exactly the same process. Each mantra and each mandala were created specially for each acolyte.

The Bahá’í position is in part the same. We do not teach any particular form of meditation though we are all encouraged to meditate. We each have to discover our own best path.

As a psychologist I am well aware that we all differ in crucial respects that will affect our preferred meditative path. Some of us are very visual and can summon up vivid pictures in our minds – I’m not one of those for sure; others respond most strongly to hearing with a feeling for the sounds of words even when they repeat them silently in their minds; others are labelled kinaesthetic, and I am one such, and respond best of all to sensation and movement, so exercises such as following the breath work well for them.

The aim, though, of all approaches to meditation is to enable us to quieten the mind, separate our consciousness from the constant film show and chatter we have learned to mistake for who we really are, and gain increased awareness of our true spiritual core, hidden behind these veils.

One of the images used in the Bahá’í Writings to help us understand this is the mirror: it is interesting therefore that we find the word ‘reflection’ also used to describe the skill we are seeking to learn. Not only do we have to cleanse the mirror of dirt before it can reflect exactly what is before it, we need to understand as well that if the mind is like a mirror it is also never what is reflected in it.

In this way we can avoid two deadly traps.

When we have turned the mirror of our hearts and minds towards worldly things we can make the mistake of assuming that the reflection of this material version of reality is who we really are and what the world is really like. When we do this we are caught in a trance that keeps us shackled to materialism.

When we have cleansed the mirror of our heart, and it is turned towards the world of the spirit and has begun to reflect the glory we find there, we can make the mistake of thinking we are glorious. The pride that follows will destroy us spiritually. We have to realise we are not the glory. We are only a channel for this spiritual power, just like a mirror that shines the sun’s light into a dark cave.

As you may have already worked out by now, the meditative approaches I will be sharing play to my relative strengths: they involve sensations and sounds, especially words. If, by trying these out patiently over a reasonable period of time, they clearly do not work for you, that is not a problem. There will be an approach that works for you somewhere, and hopefully you will find pointers in that direction during this weekend.

I just would like to add that in the Bahá’í Faith we don’t see this kind of private reflection as the only spiritual discipline. We also believe that when people come together, whether as family, as friends or in some form of work environment, and consult with one another to solve a problem or make a plan, this consultation works best when it draws on the same state of detachment as we can develop in meditation, and when it does it is a spiritual process too. We cannot compare our different views of reality effectively and develop a new understanding if we are so attached to what we think and feel we are unable to hear and learn from what others say.

As a result of the consistent practice of these twin disciplines, in a context of awareness that all living things are deeply interconnected, we will be able to achieve a level of consciousness that increasingly corresponds to what Bahá’u’lláh describes in the second quote at the head of this hand-out, where ‘the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment’ are manifested. We will then be more capable of effectively addressing the problems that face us all at this crisis point in our civilisation.

First Experience to Test the Water (20 minutes maximum)

First we need to spend a few moments practising tuning into our body and our breathing so as to begin to process of calming down so we can have the best chance of silencing the chatter in our heads. [Spend a few moments body scanning and following the breath to settle the mind.]

Next, can we all remember the words of part of a song, poem, prayer or piece of prose, which is positive and uplifting? [If so, spend five minutes or so with everyone attempting to maintain focus as they silently repeat the words in their minds.]

Finally for this part, please can we share how that worked for us?

Beginning to Learn How to Separate Consciousness from its Contents

(30 minutes)

At the beginning I mentioned that one goal of meditation, and a very important one, is for us to experience the fact that we are not what we think, feel and intend, anymore than we are who or what we have come to believe we are. This is easier said than done, as I have discovered over the years.

To help us take the first step on this long ladder I have borrowed and adapted an exercise from Psychosynthesis. It has a rather off-putting title: disidentification. Basically, all it means is spending a few moments every day repeating to ourselves a description of the true reality: we are not our thoughts, feelings or intentions. We are instead a centre of pure consciousness and will, as they describe it. [Give out the Disidentification handout adapted from Psychosynthesis to separate out clearly what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá regards as three separate powers of the soul: knowing (here expressed as the basic ability, thought, that rises at its highest to wisdom), loving (here feeling whose highest expression might be termed compassion), and willing (whose highest expression might be the disposition towards altruistic action).Separating the Mirror from its ReflectionsExplain that before we start the exercise itself it is important to spend a few moments grounding ourselves by body scanning and/or following the breath. Spend 15 minutes on this. The link with developing what is termed detachment is fairly clear, I hope.

At the end, we can take a few minutes to share our experiences and reflect upon them.

Using a Mantram (25 Minutes)

There are many ways we could now choose to help us move nearer to the goal of achieving awareness of pure consciousness. As I explained earlier, my own meditative experiences have focused on words and sensations. Following the breath has always helped me quieten my mind down preparatory to using other powerful techniques.

This next method is deceptively simple but very effective, in my view.

We all have heard of the mantram, I’m sure: a short phrase or even a single word or sound that is repeated silently in the mind for significant periods of time in meditative practice and then can be used in other situations to help us calm down and become grounded. An excellent explanation of this method can be found in Eknath Easwaran’s rewarding book on meditation: Meditation: common sense directions for an uncommon life.

He first of all makes clear that he does not see meditation as a kind of hypnosis nor any kind of navel gazing or rumination (page 9):

[Meditation] is, rather, a systematic technique for taking hold of and concentrating to the utmost degree our latent mental power. It consists in training the mind, especially attention and the will, so that we can set forth from the surface level of consciousness and journey into the very depths.

He speaks of ‘the great discovery’ (page 24-25):

As long as we identify with the body and the mind we bob around on the surface level of consciousness, chasing after the fleeting attractions of life outside us.… now, in profound meditation, we drop below all that and become concentrated on one thing and one thing alone: our true identity. In this absorption, this great gathering within, we break through the surface of consciousness and plummet deep, deep into our real nature.

He recommends the mantram as something portable, that need not be confined to the quietness of a room set aside for meditation. He explains the origin of the term (page 59): the word is linked to ‘the roots man, “the mind,” and tri, “to cross.” The mantram, repeated regularly for a long time, enables us to cross the sea of the mind. An apt image, for the mind very much resembles the sea. Ever-changing, it is placid one day, turbulent the next.’

For him, the mantram links us to (page 60) ‘the supreme Reality,’ whatever we choose to call it:

What matters greatly is that we discover – experientially, not intellectually – that this supreme Reality rests at the inmost centre of our being. . . . the mantram stands as a perpetual reminder that such perfection is within all of us, waiting to flow through our thoughts, words, and deeds.

He feels that (page 70) ‘the mantram works best when we repeat it silently in the mind with as much concentration as possible.’ He’s not in favour of counting with beads or linking it to the breath because it divides attention. He also feels strongly that once we have chosen our mantram we must stick with and not keep chopping and changing it.

In the Bahá’í Faith we are given something we can use in this way if we wish. It is what we call the Greatest Name: Alláh-u-Abhá (‘God the All-Glorious’). We are required to repeat this 95 times every day: it is an obligation to do so. To then also use it as our mantram, a separate though related spiritual skill, seems an obvious step to take, though we are free, of course, to choose something else if we wish.

Those of us here who come from other spiritual traditions, or perhaps no spiritual tradition at all, will have to give some thought to what can be used instead. It is important that, at the very least, the word(s) or sounds(s) chosen do not have any negative connotations. What are for us neutral or relatively meaningless sounds such as ‘Om’[1], can none the less be effective, at least to a degree, as they serve to give the distracted mind something to hold onto to help it turn away from all the chatter and become calmer and quieter.

Words with spiritual meaning for us are preferable, as they also have the effect of facilitating the connection we are seeking to make with the truest core of our being. If words are used they should be no more than a very short phrase such as Easwaran suggests (pages 65-66): Ave Maria, the Hebrew Barukh attah Adonai (‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord), from Islam Allah u Akbar (God is Great), Lord Jesus Christ, or Om mani padme hum (‘the jewel in the heart of the lotus’). Easwaran feels strongly (page 70) that we should ‘choose a mantram that has been sanctified by long use – one of proven power, that has enabled many men and women before [us] to realize the unity of life.’

For the purposes of this experience it is fine to make a provisional choice that can be changed later.

A key point to remember is that repeating a mantram is not like lifting a weight in an exercise regime. The repeated lifting of a weight will strengthen our muscle even if, at the same time, we are thinking about what we had for breakfast or the film we watched last night. Not so with a mantram. If we repeat it on automatic pilot while our mind wanders among the daisies there will be no benefit.

We must insist that our mind focuses on every repetition. If it has wandered we must bring it back, not in anger but firmly nonetheless. The best way to make our minds understand that we mean business is to build in a cost, such as adding on extra minutes of meditation time for every period of distraction longer than brief moment. [Then follows about 10 minutes practice.]

At the end we need to reflect upon how the experience went.

Meditation weekend school

Second Session

Using a Memorised Passage (45 minutes)

This may prove to be the hardest part of this set of experiences. It involves using a passage that we have learned by heart. Our culture tends to despise rote learning and describes it as learning ‘parrot fashion.’ (Not that I have anything against parrots. They’re very bright for a bird.) As a result many of us nowadays do not feel confident when trying to learn anything by heart, and are probably not very motivated to do so anyway as we think it a waste of time.

Parroting facts may really not be very useful if we do not understand their underlying meaning as a result of careful, creative and independent thought. Spiritual words though operate on many different levels, as Easwaran explains (page 9):

An inspirational passage turns our thoughts to what is permanent, to those things that put a final end to insecurity. As we drive it deeper and deeper, the words come to life within us, transforming all our thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds.

This not to say that we can keep on using the same passage indefinitely (pages 39-40):

Using the same passage over and over is fine at the outset, but in time, the words may seem stale. You may find yourself repeating them mechanically, without sensitivity to their meaning. I suggest you memorise new pieces from [various religious] traditions so you will have a varied repertoire. As you commit a new passage to memory, it is good to spend some time reflecting on the meaning of the words and their practical application to your life. But please don’t do this while you are actually meditating.

He adds another crucial piece of advice (ibid.):

. . . avoid choosing passages that are negative, that take a harsh and deprecatory view of the body, of our past mistakes, or of life in the world. We want to draw forth our positive side, our higher Self . . . .

We need to spend a few moments now quietly deciding what passage we are going to use. Then, after grounding ourselves as usual, we can begin 10-15 minutes of meditation on the passage we have chosen. How should we do this? As Easwaran points out (page 32), we have to find the pace that suits us best: ‘the space between words is a matter for each person to work out individually.… If the words come too close together, you will not be slowing down the mind… If the words stand too far apart, they will not be working together…’

If we find our mind has wandered, we should, without getting irritated with ourselves, begin the passage again at the beginning. This teaches the mind that it cannot get away with wandering: there is a price to pay.

In these early stages we should consider ourselves very successful if we can meditate in this way upon a text for five minutes without losing our concentration. Our aim over a period of months could be to increase their concentration span to something like 20 minutes. Clearly this would enable us, if we wished, to memorise longer passages for reciting, rather than repeating the same short text.

After that a few moments of reflection can follow, first of all on the meditation we have just done, and then upon the whole experience of the morning/afternoon. Among the hoped for results of all these experiences in a felt sense as well as intellectual understanding of how a mantra and meditation upon scripture help us move away from our identification with our conditioned patterns of thought and feeling to connect with our deepest self, a connection that will enable us to tune in more effectively to the people around us. As a result of this we will be able to respond to them as they are and in terms of what they need rather than to what we think they should be, as well as being able to learn from them what will help us grow in our turn.

Footnote:

[1] In Hinduism, Om is a spiritual symbol (pratima) referring to Atman (soul, self within).

Meditation quintet

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child-soldier-empty-roadOnly as humanity comes to understand the implications of what occurred during this period of history will it be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. The value of the contribution we as Bahá’ís can make to the process demands that we ourselves grasp the significance of the historic transformation wrought by the twentieth century.

(Century of Light – page 0)

The reason I gave recently for my being triggered to step back somewhat from blogging was the increased demand on my time. This was mostly from a particular project – the preparation of a series of eight workshops for a Bahá’í summer school. I thought it might be worth posting the material on this blog to see if it proves useful to others. Here is the third post of eight. I will be posting them on Mondays and Thursdays over four weeks. Century of Light is a key text published by the Bahá’í World Centre designed to help us understand the challenges we face in the world today. If you prefer you can download this in PDF version (3 Components of Our Wreck). I find I have learned a huge amount both from preparing these materials and from walking with others in the workshop along a path of intense exploration over a period of days.

Reflecting on Quotations

We agreed in the first workshop that we would start the day today by trying out one way of building reflection on a quotation into our moments of quiet contemplation.

We need to sit comfortably in our chairs, our backs reasonably erect, both feet in contact with the floor and hands lying loosely in our lap. We need to spend a few moments withdrawing our attention from the outside world and instead focusing it on our breathing. This is probably most easily done by resting our full attention on the movement of our diaphragm. At the start, if it helps, we can use our rate of breathing to slow down our inward recitation of the passage we have memorised. When we are alone we can of course recite the passage out loud. If anyone has not yet memorised a passage it is fine to begin this process by reading it slowly and mindfully after settling quietly into a reflective state of mind.

Keeping our breathing steady and even, we should focus our entire attention upon each phrase as we read or recite it. As Easwaran points out (page 32) in his excellent book, in the end we have to find the pace that suits us best: ‘the space between words is a matter for each person to work out individually.… If the words come too close together, you will not be slowing down the mind… If the words stand too far apart, they will not be working together…’

If we find our mind has wandered, we should, without getting irritated with ourselves, begin the passage again at the beginning. This teaches the mind that it cannot getaway with wandering: there is a price to pay.

In these early stages we should consider ourselves very successful if we can meditate in this way upon a text for five minutes without losing our concentration. Our aim over a period of months could be to increase their concentration span to something like 20 minutes. Clearly this would enable us, if we wished, to memorise longer passages for reciting, rather than repeating the same short text. It is advisable to change the text we use each week to fend off the indifference which can come from overfamiliarity.

  1. Why would regularly experiencing the wisdom captured in words in this way be helpful to us?
  2. What was our experience like this time?

Group Work

Reminder: For each group discussion the group should choose a facilitator. It would be best to change the facilitator for each piece of group work over the series of workshops but the group will remain the same. During the consultation, the facilitator’s role is to keep track of the time, to ensure that:

  1. everyone contributes something,
  2. no one keeps repeating the same point, and
  3. no one makes excessively long contributions.

The group also needs to agree who will keep a record of the main points for when there is a report back to everyone at the end of the group consultation. The aim should be to make the report back no longer than five minutes.

Ukrainian government army soldiers examine weapons captured from rebels in the city of Slovyansk, Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine on July 5, 2014 (For source of image see link)

Ukrainian government army soldiers examine weapons captured from rebels in the city of Slovyansk, Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine on July 5, 2014 (For source of image see link)

Group One Task

The Evidence of a Corrosive Cultural Climate

Pages 1: The loss of life alone has been beyond counting. The disintegration of basic institutions of social order, the violation – indeed, the abandonment – of standards of decency, the betrayal of the life of the mind through surrender to ideologies as squalid as they have been empty, the invention and deployment of monstrous weapons of mass annihilation, the bankrupting of entire nations and the reduction of masses of human beings to hopeless poverty, the reckless destruction of the environment of the planet – such are the more obvious in a catalogue of horrors unknown to even the darkest of ages past.

This is a powerful indictment of our culture. We need to unpack some of the implications before we can move on to more positive perspectives.

  1. Where do see evidence of ‘the disintegration of basic institutions of social order’ and ‘the abandonment . . . of standards of decency’? Is there an antidote to this process?
  2. What do we think is meant by ‘betrayal of the life of the mind through surrender to ideologies as squalid as they have been empty’? How might that best be remedied?
  3. Are any of the other points unclear in their implications?

Pages 3-4: The vast majority of the human family, living in lands outside the Western world, shared in few of the blessings and little of the optimism of their European and American brethren. [Refers to China, India, Latin America, & Africa.] . . . Most tragic of all was the plight of the inhabitants of the African continent, divided against one another by artificial boundaries created through cynical bargains among European powers. It has been estimated that during the first decade of the twentieth century over a million people in the Congo perished – starved, beaten, worked literally to death for the profit of their distant masters, a preview of the fate that was to engulf well over one hundred million of their fellow human beings across Europe and Asia before the century reached its end.

These masses of humankind, despoiled and scorned – but representing most of the earth’s inhabitants – were seen not as protagonists but essentially as objects of the new century’s much vaunted civilising process. Despite benefits conferred on a minority among them, the colonial peoples existed chiefly to be acted upon – to be used, trained, exploited, Christianised, civilised, mobilised . . . . To a large extent, religious and political pieties of various kinds masked both ends and means from the publics in Western lands, who were thus able to derive moral satisfaction from the blessings their nations were assumed to be conferring on less worthy peoples, while themselves enjoying the material fruits of this benevolence.

Additional Information:

In his book The Bottom Billion (2007) Paul Collier explains there are at least 58 countries worldwide trapped in poverty, as a result of factors such as incessant conflict or bad governance. The total population of these countries at that time was 980 million people, seventy per cent of whom live in Africa.

In addition we can factor in the abuse of children in various ways (Universal House of Justice: Ridván 2000):

Our children . . . . should not be left to drift in a world so laden with moral dangers. In the current state of society, children face a cruel fate.

  • Millions and millions in country after country are dislocated socially.
  • Children find themselves alienated by parents and other adults whether they live in conditions of wealth or poverty.
  • This alienation has its roots in a selfishness that is born of materialism that is at the core of the godlessness seizing the hearts of people everywhere.
  • The social dislocation of children is in our time a sure mark of a society in decline; this condition is not, however, confined to any race, class, nation or economic condition – it cuts across them all.

It grieves our hearts to realise that in so many parts of the world children are

  • employed as soldiers,
  • exploited as labourers,
  • sold into virtual slavery,
  • forced into prostitution,
  • made objects of pornography,
  • abandoned by parents centred on their own desires, and
  • subjected to other forms of victimisation too numerous to mention.

Many such horrors are inflicted by parents themselves upon their own children. The spiritual and psychological damage defies estimation.

Additional Information from ten years ago:

26,575 children die every single day. Of the 62 countries making no progress or insufficient progress towards the Millennium Development Goal on child survival, nearly 75 per cent are in Africa. In some countries in southern Africa, the prevalence of HIV and AIDS has reversed previously recorded declines in child mortality. Achieving the goal in these countries will require a concerted effort. Reaching the target means reducing the number of child deaths from 9.7 million in 2006 to around 4 million by 2015. Accomplishing this will require accelerated action on multiple fronts: reducing poverty and hunger (MDG 1), improving maternal health (MDG 5), combating HIV and AIDS, malaria and other major diseases (MDG 6), increasing the usage of improved water and sanitation (MDG 7) and providing affordable essential drugs on a sustainable basis (MDG 8). It will also require a re-examination of strategies to reach the poorest, most marginalized communities.

Trafficking in children is a global problem affecting large numbers of children. Some estimates have as many as 1.2 million children being trafficked every year. There is a demand for trafficked children as cheap labour or for sexual exploitation. Children and their families are often unaware of the dangers of trafficking, believing that better employment and lives lie in other countries. Most child casualties are civilians. But one of the most deplorable developments in recent years has been the increasing use of young children as soldiers. In one sense, this is not really new. For centuries children have been involved in military campaigns—as child ratings on warships, or as drummer boys on the battlefields of Europe. Indeed the word ‘infantry’, for foot-soldiers, can also mean a group of young people. What is frightening nowadays is the escalation in the use of children as fighters. Recently, in 25 countries, thousands of children under the age of 16 have fought in wars. In 1988 alone, they numbered as many as 200,000. And while children might be thought to be the people deserving greatest protection, as soldiers they are often considered the most expendable. During the Iran-Iraq war, child soldiers, for example, were sent out ahead in waves over minefields.

  1. How do you think that we managed to disguise from ourselves the iniquity of what we were doing in all these areas for so long and why has Africa come out of it all so badly?
  2. Have we now moved past that period of exploitation, neglect and abuse, or is it still happening? If it is, why does it persist?
  3. If we have moved on to some degree, how did we do it?
  4. Why is the harm we have been doing to our children a crucially important issue for us to address urgently, probably as urgently as climate change if not more so?
  5. What does all this tell us about the size of the task still ahead, if we are to turn things round completely?

Group Two Task

Materialism

Page 6: Where winds of change did dispel the mists, among the educated classes in Western lands, inherited orthodoxies were all too often replaced by the blight of an aggressive secularism that called into doubt both the spiritual nature of humankind and the authority of moral values themselves. Everywhere, the secularisation of society’s upper levels seemed to go hand in hand with a pervasive religious obscurantism among the general population.

Page 89: Fathered by nineteenth century European thought, acquiring enormous influence through the achievements of American capitalist culture, and endowed by Marxism with the counterfeit credibility peculiar to that system, materialism emerged full-blown in the second half of the twentieth century as a kind of universal religion claiming absolute authority in both the personal and social life of humankind. Its creed was simplicity itself. Reality – including human reality and the process by which it evolves – is essentially material in nature. The goal of human life is, or ought to be, the satisfaction of material needs and wants. Society exists to facilitate this quest, and the collective concern of humankind should be an ongoing refinement of the system, aimed at rendering it ever more efficient in carrying out its assigned task.

Page 135: There has not been a society in the history of the world, no matter how pragmatic, experimentalist and multiform it may have been, that did not derive its thrust from some foundational interpretation of reality. Such a system of thought reigns today virtually unchallenged across the planet, under the nominal designation “Western civilisation”. Philosophically and politically, it presents itself as a kind of liberal relativism; economically and socially, as capitalism – two value systems that have now so adjusted to each other and become so mutually reinforcing as to constitute virtually a single, comprehensive world-view.

Appreciation of the benefits – in terms of the personal freedom, social prosperity and scientific progress enjoyed by a significant minority of the Earth’s people – cannot withhold a thinking person from recognizing that the system is morally and intellectually bankrupt. It has contributed its best to the advancement of civilisation, as did all its predecessors, and, like them, is impotent to deal with the needs of a world never imagined by the eighteenth century prophets who conceived most of its component elements. Shoghi Effendi did not limit his attention to divine right monarchies, established churches or totalitarian ideologies when he posed the searching question: “Why should these, in a world subject to the immutable law of change and decay, be exempt from the deterioration that must needs overtake every human institution?”

Page 136: Tragically, what Bahá’ís see in present-day society is unbridled exploitation of the masses of humanity by greed that excuses itself as the operation of “impersonal market forces“. What meets their eyes everywhere is the destruction of moral foundations vital to humanity’s future, through gross self-indulgence masquerading as “freedom of speech”. What they find themselves struggling against daily is the pressure of a dogmatic materialism, claiming to be the voice of “science“, that seeks systematically to exclude from intellectual life all impulses arising from the spiritual level of human consciousness.

These are key paragraphs for us to understand thoroughly if we are to grasp the importance and true nature of a more spiritual path forward.

Blake Newton

Additional Information:

From A Compilation on Scholarship: Baha’i Reference Library):

Just as there is a fundamental difference between divine Revelation itself and the understanding that believers have of it, so also there is a basic distinction between scientific fact and reasoning on the one hand and the conclusions or theories of scientists on the other. There is, and can be, no conflict between true religion and true science: true religion is revealed by God, while it is through true science that the mind of man “discovers the realities of things and becomes cognizant of their peculiarities and effects, and of the qualities and properties of beings” and “comprehendeth the abstract by the aid of the concrete”. However, whenever a statement is made through the lens of human understanding it is thereby limited, for human understanding is limited; and where there is limitation there is the possibility of error; and where there is error, conflicts can arise.

Medina, in his book Faith, Physics & Psychology, explains that he sees the current worldview as destructively rooted in the thinking of Descartes and Newton. He refers to it throughout as the ‘Cartesian-Newtonian worldview.’ Descartes split mind from body, which he considered to be a machine. He considered that all true understanding derived from analysis (splitting into components) and logic. Add to this Newton’s determinism (we can predict anything from our knowledge both of its starting state and the operation of immutable universal laws) and, in Medina’s view, we have the current, in his view pernicious, Cartesian-Newtonian worldview (page 14):

. . . . this classical science worldview is based on a mechanistic view of human beings and the universe that alienates human beings from their spiritual, moral, and emotional faculties. It has divided the world into mutually exclusive opposing forces: the dichotomies of science versus religion, reason versus faith, logic versus intuition, natural versus supernatural, material versus spiritual, and secular versus sacred. The result is a materialistic worldview that emphasises the truth of science, reason, logic, the natural, the material, and the secular while ignoring or even denigrating the truth of religion, faith, intuition, the supernatural, the spiritual, and the sacred.

Medina goes on to unpack what for him at least are the limitations of ‘secular spirituality’ which (page 94) ‘do not necessarily promote an altruistic social ethic or a desire on the part of individuals to improve society for the benefit of all.’ He includes ‘religious fundamentalism’ (page 95-96) under this umbrella ‘because it represents an attempt to use religion as a vehicle to fulfil worldly desires for leadership or power or as a justification for ungodly acts such as forced conversion of pagans or warfare against infidels.’

He goes on to state that our version of Christianity has contributed to the problems the Cartesian-Newtonian worldview creates (page 129) as a result of its concept of ‘an all-transcendent God Who is essentially divorced from the cursed natural world.’ He concludes (pages 129-30):

It is my belief that an extremist form of Christian theism actually worked hand-in-hand with the Cartesian-Newtonian worldview to promulgate a false sense of separation between the spiritual and the material and between the sacred and the secular.

It is important to stress that he is not criticising the true essence of Christianity here, simply some of its more extreme distortions with their destructive consequences.

For those interested in a more mainstream Christian take on the matter see God, Humanity & the Cosmos (Southgate et al: pages 95-98): they too conclude that a mechanical view of the world prevailed as a result of the success of this Descartes/Newton fusion, and this then negatively affected economics and political theory as well as religion and our view of ourselves. 

  1. Why do we think secularism and religious obscurantism might go hand in hand in the way described here?
  2. What are the achievements of American capitalism and what makes them so persuasive given the damage the system seems to be causing?
  3. How can materialism, dogmatic or otherwise, be effectively a religion? What are the parallels?
  4. What is ‘liberal relativism’ and how has it been fostered by a materialist world view? How does this philosophical and moral approach make such a perfect marriage with capitalism? Do we agree that this arrangement is bankrupt?
  5. Are market forces not really impersonal?
  6. Are science and materialism not really in tune?

Report Back: One member of each group explains their conclusions and what they have learnt. Their group members can join in to field whatever questions and comments come their way.

Compensating Accomplishments

Pages 4-5: To point out the failings of a great civilisation is not to deny its accomplishments. As the twentieth century opened, the peoples of the West could take justifiable pride in the technological, scientific and philosophical developments for which their societies had been responsible. . . . . A continuous process of discovery, design and improvement was making accessible power of unimaginable magnitude – with, alas, ecological consequences equally unimagined at the time – especially through the use of cheap fuel and electricity.

Page 5: Changes taking place at the deeper level of scientific thought were even more far-reaching in their implications. The nineteenth century had still been held in the grip of the Newtonian view of the world as a vast clockwork system, but by the end of the century the intellectual strides necessary to challenge that view had already been taken. New ideas were emerging that would lead to the formulation of quantum mechanics; and before long the revolutionising effect of the theory of relativity would call into question beliefs about the phenomenal world that had been accepted as common sense for centuries.

  1. How do we feel about the advantages they quote? Why aren’t they enough to turn our society round and avert the crisis towards which we seem to be hurtling?
  2. In what ways do we think new scientific paradigms may have changed our perspective on reality?

Where now?

. . . . . As the twentieth century opened, Western civilisation was reaping the fruits of a philosophical culture that was rapidly liberating the energies of its populations, and whose influence would soon produce a revolutionary impact throughout the entire world.

More on all this next time.

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Candle ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Only as humanity comes to understand the implications of what occurred during this period of history will it be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. The value of the contribution we as Bahá’ís can make to the process demands that we ourselves grasp the significance of the historic transformation wrought by the twentieth century.

(Century of Light – page 0)

The reason I gave recently for my being triggered to step back somewhat from blogging was the increased demand on my time. This was mostly from a particular project – the preparation of a series of eight workshops for a Bahá’í summer school. I thought it might be worth posting the material on this blog to see if it proves useful to others. Here is the first post of eight. I will be posting them on Mondays and Thursdays over four weeks. Century of Light is a key text published by the Bahá’í World Centre designed to help us understand the challenges we face in the world today. If you prefer you can download this in PDF version (1 Our Roles in the World). I find I have learned a huge amount both from preparing these materials and from walking with others in the workshop along a path of intense exploration over a period of days.

The Overview

Century of Light challenges both every Bahá’í and all other citizens of this changing world, to gain a clear understanding of the conditions that face us, now that the processes of the 20th Century have done their work. What we will hope to achieve in this series of workshops is:

  1. To understand something of those processes;
  2. To begin to understand what they are compelling us to do in consequence;
  3. To glimpse at least in part how the vision of three key agents of change – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice –can enable us all to rise more effectively to the challenges that confront us.

This first session will touch on all these themes at some point, but will mainly focus on the relationship between what the Bahá’ís are attempting to do and what the rest of humankind needs to do.

___________________________________________________________

Memorising (to be read in your own time after the session)

Eknath Easwaran

Eknath Easwaran

Socrates was very concerned about the invention of the alphabet and the reading it brought with it. He feared that human memory would be destroyed. What he would have had to say about the iPhone and the internet I can barely begin to imagine.

The Faith attaches great importance to memorising quotations from the Bahá’í Writings. There are several reasons for this, including the usefulness of such quotations in conversation to convey the ideas of the Faith in their original form rather than in one’s own translation. Another key reason, in addition to the benefits of enhancing the power of our memory, something which our reliance on electronic devices is seriously diminishing, is that the internalisation of truths in this way changes our inner being to some degree. We can enhance that effect by using, in our quiet periods of meditation, the quotations we have memorised.

These are significant benefits, as Eknath Easwaran explains in his excellent and accessible book Meditation: common sense directions for an uncommon life

Among the advice he gives is this (Pages 39-40):

In meditation, the passage becomes imprinted on our consciousness. As we drive it deeper and deeper, the words come to life within us, transforming all our thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds. . . . . As you commit a new passage to memory, it is good to spend some time reflecting on the meaning of the words and their practical application to your life. But please don’t do this while you are actually meditating. . . . . And avoid choosing passages that are negative, that take a harsh and difficult view of the body, of our past mistakes, or of life in the world. We want to draw on our positive side, our higher Self, and the passages should move you to become steadfast, compassionate, and wise.

Lasse Thoresen, in his thoughtful book Unlocking the Gate of the Heart which explores meditation from a Bahá’í viewpoint, reinforces basically the same idea (pages 91-92):

Whether we are conscious of it or not, a passage we know by heart will always be with us wherever we may go, whether we are asleep or awake. We have fed our subconscious with the words of God, allowing them to work within us and appear in our consciousness when we have need for them, perhaps as a part of new insight.

It seemed a good idea therefore to introduce right at the start of this sequence of workshops a technique for making memorising easier. The method I am quoting here has been adapted from a way of memorising poetry. I sorry to say that I have no record of whose original idea I have borrowed here.

This is the method:

How to Learn Passages: 

  1. Read the passage once. Then divide it into convenient short sections, each equivalent to a line of poetry.
  2. Now read the first section out loud. Take your eyes from the page and immediately say the section again. Glance back to make sure you got it right. If you made a mistake, try again. Now do the same with the second section. Repeat the procedure for every section in the passage.
  3. Go back to the beginning. This time, read the first two sections out loud, look away and repeat them aloud. Check. If you made a mistake, try again. Now move onto the next two sections, going through the whole passage two sections at a time.
  4. Repeat the passage three sections at a time, then four sections at a time, then five and then six. By the sixth pass, no matter how long the passage, you will have memorised it.
  5. Recite the whole passage just before going to bed at night.
  6. Crucial: stop thinking about the passage. Your sleeping mind is very important for memory.
  7. The next day, you should find (after a glance at the first section to bump-start your memory) that you can recite the whole passage.

In using this method I have found it important, if I am to retain the whole passage permanently, I need to slowly reduce the frequency of repeating it over a reasonable period of time. At first, perhaps for a week, I repeat it every night. Then every other, then every third night and so on until I repeat it only once per week. I can then choose to use it whenever I wish in my daily meditations. It is important to keep it fresh by revisiting it occasionally, maybe once every month or two in this way. We’ll be talking about how to build a memorised passage into a daily meditation later.

I would like to ask everyone to choose, perhaps from the ones we’ll be using today, a passage from Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings – for a Bahá’í these are the most powerful, along with the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, for developing spiritual insight – and then use the method above to commit it to memory. We will be looking tomorrow at an approach to using a memorised passage in quiet reflection.

_____________________________________________________________________

A. Dipping our Toes in the Deep Water

It is easier to clarify what we need to be doing, if we first look at a quotation from a message of the Universal House of Justice to all those gathered on Mount Carmel to mark the completion of the project there on 24th May 2001:

Humanity’s crying need will not be met by a struggle among competing ambitions or by protest against one or another of the countless wrongs afflicting a desperate age. It calls, rather, for a fundamental change of consciousness, for a wholehearted embrace of Bahá’u’lláh’s teaching that the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family. Commitment to this revolutionizing principle will increasingly empower individual believers and Bahá’í institutions alike in awakening others to the Day of God and to the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world.

Taking this together with a longer quotation from the Century of Light helps us gain a better understanding of what is meant here (page 94):

Realisation of the uniqueness of what Bahá’u’lláh has brought into being opens the imagination to the contribution that the Cause can make to the unification of humankind and the building of a global society. The immediate responsibility of establishing world government rests on the shoulders of the nation-states. What the Bahá’í community is called on to do, at this stage in humanity’s social and political evolution, is to contribute by every means in its power to the creation of conditions that will encourage and facilitate this enormously demanding undertaking. In the same way that Bahá’u’lláh assured the monarchs of His day that “It is not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms”, so the Bahá’í community has no political agenda, abstains from all involvement in partisan activity, and accepts unreservedly the authority of civil government in public affairs. Whatever concern Bahá’ís may have about current conditions or about the needs of their own members is expressed through constitutional channels.

The power that the Cause possesses to influence the course of history thus lies not only in the spiritual potency of its message but in the example it provides. “So powerful is the light of unity,” Bahá’u’lláh asserts, “that it can illuminate the whole earth.” The oneness of humankind embodied in the Faith represents, as Shoghi Effendi emphasized, “no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope”. The organic unity of the body of believers – and the Administrative Order that makes it possible – are evidences of what Shoghi Effendi termed “the society-building power which their Faith possesses.”

Questions for General Discussion (to orient us to some of the issues we will be returning to in more detail later)

To tackle these questions briefly at this point, we need to break into four groups – one for each question. We’ll use the counting system for this, everyone numbering off from 1 to 4. Notes should be taken of the points made to they can be reported back to everyone at the end of the consultation period.

  1. Our society seems to have built its institutions around adversarial processes – political parties in parliament, prosecution and defence in a courtroom and competing contenders in the global market place. Do we agree that this kind of approach will no longer solve our problems? If so, why not? If not, how can they ever succeed?
  2. Does the solution put forward by the Universal House of Justice seem likely to be more effective, ie that ‘each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family’? If so, how? If not, why not?
  3. The role of Bahá’ís in relation to others is at least partly captured in the words of the House when they say Bahá’ís should be ‘awakening others to the Day of God and to the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world.’ How easy is that going to be? What problems might lie ahead as Bahá’ís try to do that, both within the Bahá’í community and in the wider community as well? How are those problems to be transcended?
  4. We will be returning later in these workshops to the question of a world government. Clearly many problems lie ahead in terms of the eventual realisation of that idea. At this point can we speculate a little as to what conditions might ‘encourage and facilitate this enormously demanding undertaking’? Given that a Bahá’í ‘abstains from all involvement in partisan activity’ how exactly would the Bahá’í community create the necessary conditions for world government to be realised?

 

Unity

Getting a Glimpse of Unity

(Page 68): In acknowledging the darkness that widespread godlessness, violence and creeping immorality was engendering, Shoghi Effendi described the role that Bahá’ís everywhere must play as instruments of the transforming power of the new Revelation:

Theirs is the duty to hold, aloft and undimmed, the torch of Divine guidance, as the shades of night descend upon, and ultimately envelop the entire human race. Theirs is the function, amidst its tumults, perils and agonies, to witness to the vision, and proclaim the approach, of that re-created society, that Christ-promised Kingdom, that World Order whose generative impulse is the spirit of none other than Bahá’u’lláh Himself, whose dominion is the entire planet, whose watchword is unity, whose animating power is the force of Justice, whose directive purpose is the reign of righteousness and truth, and whose supreme glory is the complete, the undisturbed and everlasting felicity of the whole of human kind.

Before we look at a quotation from Bahá’u’lláh as a way of going even more deeply into the core concept animating the Bahá’í community and which we believe to be the key principle upon which the whole world now needs to operate, we need to consider briefly the quotation above, particularly the words of Shoghi Effendi, someone whose exact significance in the Faith and whose writings we will be returning to in more detail in a later workshop. He is describing the exact nature of the torch Bahá’ís believe we are holding high up in the darkness of these difficult days: the ‘dominion’ is the ‘entire planet,’ the ‘watchword is unity,’ and it will benefit the ‘whole of human kind’ animated by ‘the force of Justice’ and directed by the aim ‘of righteousness and truth.’

What do we feel is the relationship between these ideas? Is there an organising principle that holds them together? If so, what is it? If not why are they placed here in such close association?

It may be useful also to bear in mind the words of Bahá’u’lláh when He wrote:

This Wronged One exhorteth the peoples of the world to observe tolerance and righteousness, which are two lights amidst the darkness of the world and two educators for the edification of mankind. Happy are they who have attained thereto and woe betide the heedless.

(Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh: page 36)

And likewise He saith: The heaven of true understanding shineth resplendent with the light of two luminaries: tolerance and righteousness.

O my friend! Vast oceans lie enshrined within this brief saying. Blessed are they who appreciate its value, drink deep therefrom and grasp its meaning, and woe betide the heedless. This lowly one entreateth the people of the world to observe fairness, that their tender, their delicate and precious hearing which hath been created to hearken unto the words of wisdom may be freed from impediments and from such allusions, idle fancies or vain imaginings as ‘cannot fatten nor appease the hunger’, so that the true Counsellor may be graciously inclined to set forth that which is the source of blessing for mankind and of the highest good for all nations.

(ibid: page 170)

Does this help in integrating the elements referred to by Shoghi Effendi?

Beginning to Unpack Some Implications

Perhaps most importantly of all we read:

O CHILDREN OF MEN! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.

(Bahá’u’lláh – Arabic Hidden Words No. 68)

We will be returning once more to this topic in later workshops.

  1. So, briefly, what do we think it means to be ‘even as one soul’?
  2. What might be the connection between ‘oneness’ and ‘detachment’?
  3. How important is it that our actions and our ‘inmost being’ should harmonise?

This is dealt with to some degree in more straightforward prose in Century of Light (pages 114 & 136):

Bahá’u’llah’s mission is not limited to the building of the Bahá’í community. The Revelation of God has come for the whole of humanity, and it will win the support of the institutions of society to the extent that they find in its example encouragement and inspiration for their efforts to lay the foundations of a just society.

. . . . . for a Bahá’í the ultimate issues are spiritual. The Cause is not a political party nor an ideology, much less an engine for political agitation against this or that social wrong. The process of transformation it has set in motion advances by inducing a fundamental change of consciousness, and the challenge it poses to everyone who would serve it is to free oneself from attachment to inherited assumptions and preferences that are irreconcilable with the Will of God for humanity’s coming of age.

For these two questions Groups 1 and 3 combine together to tackle question (1), as do groups 2 and 4 to tackle question (2). Note taking and reporting to be as before.

  1. Why might it be necessary to ‘free oneself from attachment to inherited assumptions and preferences’ before we can move forward in the way that God requires of us?
  2. How does the harmony between our inner being and our actions empower our example?

The Beginnings of a Breakthrough?

This is something to which we will return in more detail after the third workshop, which will look at the components of the wreck that we were left with in the last century and whose negative influence persists to some extent to this day.

Page 99: Although the breakdown of society was creating problems for Bahá’í administrative institutions, a related effect was to generate a greatly increased interest in the message of the Cause. . . .

As believers from urban centres set out on sustained campaigns to reach the mass of the world’s peoples living in villages and rural areas, they encountered a receptivity to Bahá’u’lláh’s message far beyond anything they had imagined possible.

Page 138: Shoghi Effendi describes this process of world unification as the “Major Plan” of God, whose operation will continue, gathering force and momentum, until the human race has been united in a global society that has banished war and taken charge of its collective destiny. What the struggles of the twentieth century achieved was the fundamental change of direction the Divine purpose required. The change is irreversible. There is no way back to an earlier state of affairs, however greatly some elements of society may, from time to time, be tempted to seek one.

The importance of the historic breakthrough that has thus occurred is in no way minimized by recognition that the process has barely begun.

Discuss, keeping to the same two groups, allocating questions on the same basis. Note taking and reporting to be as before.

  1. Why do we think that the receptivity to Bahá’u’lláh’s message should have been so significantly increased?
  2. The Major Plan of God, as we will come to understand in more detail, is for the whole of humanity to carry forward. Do we all feel, looking back on our own experiences, that there was a fundamental change of direction in the 20th Century?

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