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Posts Tagged ‘Shoghi Effendi’

Generation after generation of believers will strive to translate the teachings into a new social reality. . . . . . . . [I]t is not a project in which Bahá’ís engage apart from the rest of humanity.

(Paul Lample: Revelation & Social Reality – page 48)

I realise that my current sequences of posts are very much focused on the individual life and its traumas, only incidentally bringing in the context of our lives as a consideration. To redress that imbalance I am republishing a sequence on The Cultural Creatives by Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson.

As we saw in the previous post, Ray and Anderson’s book, The Cultural Creatives, tracks the way that the drops of personal aspiration from millions of separate individuals first combine into several different streams before beginning to converge into a massive river of increasing power.

They quote from many peoples’ diverse stories, illuminating what they have in common. This example is typical of many in its feeling of not belonging (page 101):

‘My family was so happy on the golf course, and gossiping round the pool, but I felt like I was in some plastic prison. I finally took my dad’s rental car and spent all of Sunday at the ocean. Sitting on the cliffs watching the white pelicans soar over the Pacific, I felt like I was finally crawling back inside my own skin, breathing the fresh air, at home.’

When this feeling of isolation eventually gives way to a sense of common purpose with millions of others, an awsome power will be released. The authors retell a version of the myth of Amaterasu Omikami, the Great Mother Sun, who, because of a great hurt, hid herself in a cave and plunged the whole world into darkness until the spirits of all living things each brought a tiny fragment of a mirror with them as they danced and sang outside the cave. When she peeped out to see what was going on, they wanted to be able to lift up all their tiny mirrors at once to reflect back to her in all its glory the brilliance of her light to break her gloomy mood and return her to the heavens. The plan worked (pages 345-346):

The power that can be focused by a compound mirror is vast, while that reflected by uncoordinated individual actions has little effect. . . . [I]solated actions can’t make the kinds of changes that are needed now. . . . Our new story is one that requires ten thousand tellers and ten times more to be inspired by it. Our new face needs ten thousand mirrors, each with a unique angle of vision to catch the creative energy available now.

To achieve this kind of concerted action will not be easy even if we manage to achieve a strong clear sense of our need for it. It has always required great courage and huge sacrifices in the past, for groups of people to combine together to right even a single wrong or lift society to a higher level of understanding about one issue only. People have to do what they are afraid to do. The freedom movement in the States is not alone in providing innumerable examples of this heroism and the power of example is of central importance here (page 124):

You do not ask someone else to do what you aren’t willing to do yourself. But they did the things they feared most – they went to gaol, faced fire hoses and men with clubs, took responsibility for their friends and fellow protesters. It swept them into the deepest fear they  had ever known – but then it lifted them  beyond that fear into a strength and steadfastness they never expected.

The rewards of such courage are beyond price and its long term effects incalculable. Paul Begala testifies to that when he speaks of John Lewis (page 125):

‘I live and work in a place and a time when courage is defined as enduring a subpoena with dignity. So it is humbling to be in the presence of a man who aced down Bull Connor and his attack dogs, armed with nothing more than his courage, his conscience, and his convictions. If that ain’t a hero, I don’t know what is.

A key aspect of this kind of courage is practising what you preach (ibid):

‘Walking your talk.’ In the all-night meetings and councils of the freedom and peace movements, and the consciousness-raising groups of the women’s movement, this specific insight about social action evolved into an even more basic conviction about living authentically. What you believe in your heart has to match what you do in your life . . . .

There remain other significant problems which, the authors make clear, have dissipated the painstakingly accumulated rivulets of activity in many isolated places before they ever joined all the other brooks to make a stream. These problems pose key questions.

First of all, how do you build on the experience of others who are engaged in basically the same enterprise but in widely separated places. Networks, whose ability to operate is increasingly facilitated by the internet, are part of the answer (page 128):

Most social movements have two arms: the political and the cultural. . . . . . Contrary to the convictions of the political arm, the cultural arm is at least as important, and sometimes far more so, in its effects on the culture. . . . . But the spell-breaking power of the cultural arms takes place in submerged networks.

Secondly, how do you pass down what you have learned to those who come after you? Part of the answer to this second question lies in the power of persistency (page 203):

In the consciousness movement, the people who can persevere for ten, twenty, and thirty years are the ones who can have a dramatic impact on the culture – because that is the true time horizon of effective action. Those who need fast results and instant gratification had better go into some other line of work. As a number of Cultural Creatives told us, you have to enjoy the people and the process, and you need the maturity to work in a longer time frame.

Anyone involved in working to change the culture in which they live will have to face the intense discouragement that all too frequently comes when results fail to match up to expectations. A choice point torments us: ‘Do I keep faith with my vision or do I break faith with it?’ Keeping faith beyond what feels like its breaking point is often what brings about a break through, healing the testing breach between vision and reality, at least until the next time.

Much of the power of these processes is invisible, which is partly what makes the work so testing, but it can be calculated to some degree once you understand the typical dynamics (page 109):

To understand the true size of a social movement, think of a target with three concentric circles. The centre is the hundreds of visible leaders, demonstrators, and little organisations. Around the centre is a circle of many thousands of active supporters. and around those two active circles is the circle of the sympathetic millions who are touched by the events, and may simply read the arguments, and as a result make different choices in some part of their lives.

Powerful as these processes are, even when political alliances reinforce them, they are almost certainly not enough (page 154):

To change the culture, you cannot depend on the terms and solutions the old culture provides. . . . Leaving the heavy lifting to the political side of the movements, the cultural side started drying up, and the submerged networks began to lose touch with one another.

They pinpoint the missing link (page 187):

No one knew, or even thought about, how to create cultural institutions to support the work that was so important to them. The first generation practitioners  . . . . . could [hardly] manage their way out of a paper bag. . . . There really was a hole in the culture – the old ways didn’t work, and the new ones hadn’t yet been invented.

And why exactly, in their view, wouldn’t the institutions the United States already had do the trick (page 227)?

The three Bigs – big government, big business, and big media – have difficulty dealing with issues that cannot be isolated from other issues and solved with tools at hand.

Even progressive movements themselves could be rendered ineffective by the same tendency to atomise everything (page 229): ‘Activists, too, are Modernism’s children, believing that they must become specialists.’

Too many people pick off parts of the problem unable to see or agree that they are all interconnected. In the end the core issue cannot be evaded (page 246):

Cultural Creatives may be leading the way with responses directed towards healing and integration rather than battle. For these responses to contribute to the creation of a new culture, grassroots activism and social movements will have to evolve into new institutions. . . . [W]hile new social movements are transitory, institutions can turn the energies of these movements into everyday action.

Rainbow Bodhisattva by Vijali Hamilton

They strongly suggest that this might well involve something much more than a merely materialistic approach. They quote Joseph Campbell (page 299):

“You do not have a myth unless you have an opening into transcendence.” . . . If we cannot recognise the universe and the nations and ourselves as manifestations of “the grounding mystery of all being,” he said, we have nothing we can really trust.

And this quote is not in isolation. They also refer to Vijali Hamilton (page 311):

The true story is that there is a luminous, spacious energy that flows through everything all the time. It’s within matter, within things as well as within space, and you can tune in to it at any time . . . . . It is not otherworldly. It is right here, closer than our own flesh.”

This is so close to the idea that the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith describes:

“O My servants!” Bahá’u’lláh Himself testifies, “The one true God is My witness! This most great, this fathomless and surging ocean is near, astonishingly near, unto you. Behold it is closer to you than your life vein! Swift as the twinkling of an eye ye can, if ye but wish it, reach and partake of this imperishable favor, this God-given grace, this incorruptible gift, this most potent and unspeakably glorious bounty.”

(Shoghi Effendi: The Promised Day is Come – page 16)

So it’s not surprising that leaps of faith are required of us if we are to undertake these kinds of transformative processes effectively. To use Will Keepin‘s words (page 279):

“The work I’m doing now,” he told us, “is all based on faith.” . . . The crises he went through “led to a whole new gift that I never would have guessed. It developed a quality of trusting in the unknown.”

From a Bahá’í point of view this all makes complete sense. Bahá’ís believe that we are living on the cusp of massive changes in society and civilisation. We believe that, in the words of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘the world’s equilibrium’ has ‘been upset.’ We can sign up to the vision expressed in this book (page 230): ‘When a force for change moves into an inherently unstable time, the potential leverage is very great indeed.’ We believe that science and religion are not at odds. We can see how they could work together for the betterment of all humanity as these authors can (page 318): ‘New technologies may give us solutions to many global problems, if they are brought to life in settings with cooperative, constructive values.’ Our vision is often summarised in the words ‘The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.’ Ray and Anderson appear to resonate to that as well (page 302): ‘The sense of “one planet, our home” is inescapable.’ Their conclusion is (page 314): ‘It’s a matter of moral imagination, a wisdom of the heart.’ (For more on ‘moral imagination’ see an earlier post.)

And the core of that vision, that wisdom, is captured towards the end of their book (ibid):

[Cultural Creatives] say that each of us is a living system within a greater living system, connected to each other in more ways than we can fathom. If we focus on that wholeness, we can begin to imagine a culture that can heal the fragmentation and destructiveness of our time.

I feel that there is the possibility of huge reciprocal benefits here.

In our Writings Bahá’ís are described as ‘catalysts.’

What is called for is a spiritual revival, as a prerequisite to the  successful application of political, economic and technological  instruments. But there is a need for a catalyst. Be assured that,  in  spite  of  your  small  numbers,  you  are  the  channels  through which such a catalyst can be provided.

(Universal House of JusticeTurning Point – page 124)

(For more on what being a catalyst means for us see both links.) I think we could learn much from the Cultural Creatives about how to play that part more effectively. Bahá’ís on the other hand have a model of how a world wide network, possessing a clear vision of the oneness of humanity, can strengthen its influence and consolidate its learning with the help of an appropriate organisational structure. There is therefore something significant that Cultural Creatives can learn from us.

An urge towards unity, like a spiritual springtime, struggles to express itself through countless international congresses that bring together people from a vast array of disciplines. It motivates appeals for international projects involving children and youth. Indeed, it is the real source of the remarkable movement towards ecumenism by which members of historically antagonistic religions and sects seem irresistibly drawn towards one another. Together with the opposing tendency to warfare and self-aggrandize-ment against which it ceaselessly struggles, the drive towards world unity is one of the dominant, pervasive features of life on the planet during the closing years of the twentieth century.

The experience of the Bahá’í community may be seen as an example of this enlarging unity. It is a community . . . drawn from many nations, cultures, classes and creeds, engaged in a wide range of activities serving the spiritual, social and economic needs of the peoples of many lands. It is a single social organism, representative of the diversity of the human family, conducting its affairs through a system of commonly accepted consultative principles, and cherishing equally all the great outpourings of divine guidance in human history. Its existence is yet another convincing proof of the practicality of its Founder’s vision of a united world, another evidence that humanity can live as one global society, equal to whatever challenges its coming of age may entail. If the Bahá’í experience can contribute in whatever measure to reinforcing hope in the unity of the human race, we are happy to offer it as a model for study.

(Universal House of Justice: The Promise of World Peace – 1985)

Just as I have drawn immense encouragement and inspiration from reading this account of the Cultural Creatives, which I wholeheartedly recommend, hopefully increasing numbers of people will draw similar inspiration from the Bahá’í community to which I belong. We have a model which contains a crucial missing dimension in the work of many Cultural Creatives – and I don’t mean a belief in God. Many Cultural Creatives share that perspective in their diverse ways. I mean an institutional framework, centred around a vision of unity in diversity, through which to disseminate and consolidate the gains that have been achieved through effortful experience in different places and at different times.

So, definitely read the book but don’t just stop at that. Come and have a look at what we are doing too. There are, almost certainly, Bahá’ís near where you live. We’ll all be immensely more effective working in synchrony.

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Metamorphosis

[We are also facing] a breathtakingly dangerous tipping point for our civilisation and our planet. Our need to discover a way through is the most urgent, most central question of our time.

(Cultural Creatives: Page 236)

In the consciousness movement, the people who can persevere for ten, twenty, and thirty years are the ones who can have a dramatic impact on the culture – because that is the true time horizon of effective action.

(Op. cit.: page 203)

I realise that my current sequences of posts are very much focused on the individual life and its traumas, only incidentally bringing in the context of our lives as a consideration. To redress that imbalance I am republishing a sequence on The Cultural Creatives by Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson.

Recently I reviewed a book I hadn’t even been looking for before I bought it. It was Where on Earth is Heaven? Towards the end Stedall mentions a couple of books that ignited my interest. The first of these I’ve now finished reading: The Cultural Creatives by Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson. I did a post in November as a taster, promising to follow it up if the book as a whole proved as good as its beginning. It did and here’s the follow up.

It’s a fascinating analysis, based on detailed surveys, of how the balance of American culture, and by implication Europe’s as well probably, has shifted since the 60s. There will be much to say about that later.

When I decided to do a full review of the book I thought I’d do just one post and that would be enough. The more I thought about it, the more impossible that seemed. I felt that its compelling fascination would be conveyed better if I took my time. Of course, that could well be the wrong decision and terminal boredom could have set in for everyone else long before I get to the last post on the subject. It’ll be more of a last post in a different sense in that case.

To convey why the book resonated so much with me it made sense to start, not at the beginning of the book, but nearer to the end. It’s towards the end that the authors convey a sense of the exact nature of the cultural change we are all experiencing but from the point of view of the Cultural Creatives.

A Tipping Point

This group, who constitute 25% of the population of America (i.e. about 50 million people), feel we are in a period of transition. The authors call it the Between.

The Between is the time between worldviews, values and ways of life; a time between stories. The transition period, [John] Naisbitt concluded, “is a great and yeasty time, filled with opportunity.” But it is so, he added, only on two critical conditions: if we can “make uncertainty our friend,” and “if we can only get a clear sense, a clear conception, a clear vision of the road ahead.”

(Page 235)

Ray and Anderson (page 236) are cautious and see this period as a ‘dangerous tipping point.’ They describe the position of Cultural Creatives (page 40) as seeing ‘an antique system that is noisily, chaotically shaking itself to pieces.’

This is not all negative (page 33):

. . . this era is at least as much about cultural innovation as it is about decline and decay of established forms.

This, for Bahá’ís, has echoes of what our Teachings repeatedly emphasise. For example:

“Soon,” Bahá’u’lláh Himself has prophesied, “will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead.” And again: “By Myself! The day is approaching when We will have rolled up the world and all that is therein, and spread out a new Order in its stead.”

(Shoghi Effendi: The Promised Day Is Come – page 17)

And the similarities don’t end there. They contend (page 244):

The creative response to today’s Between is going to be one that bridges differences. . . . . .

 

Cultural CreativesBuilding Bridges

They draw support from William Ury’s Getting to Peace, which describes pre-agricultural societies as having worked hard at preventing and resolving conflict.

He feels that in our increasingly interdependent world, we have “the most promising opportunity in 10,000 years to create a co-culture of co-existence, cooperation, and constructive conflict.”

This issue of interdependence is key for Bahá’ís as well:

“The well-being of mankind,” [Bahá’u’lláh] declares, “its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.”

(Shoghi Effendi: The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh – page 203)

Ray and Anderson, thinking along the same lines and quoting Mary Ford, write (page 21) :

You have to have a definition of self that’s bigger than [society’s] definitions, that’s grounded in how connected we all are to each other.

The how of course is easier said than done, and we’ll be looking at that in more detail later. They describe at least one of the obstacles very clearly (page 222):

Moderns and Traditionals don’t see themselves as members of an interconnected planetary community, and don’t see their problems as interconnected either.

(We’ll be coming back to Traditionals in the next post.) Whereas Cultural Creatives, and Bahá’ís of course as well, do see themselves very much this way, Cultural Creatives (page 94)

. . .  want to see the big, inclusive picture, and they want to work with the whole system, with all the players. They regard themselves as synthesisers and healers, not just on the personal level but on the planetary level too.

The authors spell out what they feel the fragmentation of the dominant worldview of Modernism means for us all (pages 226-227):

As individuals, we know that we are part of a living system and that what we do to part of that system affects all of us sooner or later. But as a society we don’t know this.

I’m not sure how true the first part is for all individuals but it’s certainly true that our society as a whole has not grasped this holistic view yet. They place much of the blame for this on the fragmented perspective of modernism (page 92), which they see as the dominant worldview in the States, both in terms of the percentage of the population who strongly subscribe to it (48%) and in terms of control of the media:

Cultural Creatives are sick of the fragmentation of Modernism.

Even more damningly they write (page 294):

Modernism lives with a hole where wisdom ought to be.

Cultural Creatives strive for a more integrated perspective.  They think of themselves ‘as an interwoven piece of nature’ (page 9). In ways reminiscent of  Iain McGilchrist’s descriptions (see review on this blog), they have a right-brain feel about them (page 11):

. . . . they want the big picture, and they are powerfully attuned to the importance of whole systems. They are good at synthesing from very disparate, fragmented pieces of information.

The writers quote Parker Palmer approvingly (page 20) when he states:

. . . . that movements begin when people refuse to live divided lives.

But they acknowledge it is hard to see how this can be applied to building a new society (page 64):

. . . we are in the midst of a transition. Mapmakers must be content with seeing the new territory from afar – which means their map will have serious limits.

But we cannot simply leave it there (page 234):

. . . because all of us now are ‘people of the parenthesis,’ as Jean Houston calls us, we must break free of our restricted worldview and make our way into new territory.

And those are the ideas that are developed throughout the book as a whole. Consideration of them must wait till next time.

Bahá’ís share this perspective and these aspirations while recognising that Bahá’ís alone can never bring about such changes:

To say that the process of building a new civilisation is a conscious one does not imply that the outcome depends exclusively on the believers’ initiatives. . . . emphasis on the contributions Bahá’ís are to make to the civilisation-building process is not intended to diminish the significance of efforts being exerted by others.

(Paul Lample: Revelation & Social Reality – page 109: see review)

It is hugely encouraging to feel that there are up to 50 million people in America alone working towards broadly the same ends, manifesting the spirit of the age

working through mankind as a whole, tearing down barriers to world unity and forging humankind into a unified body in the fires of suffering and experience.

(Universal House of Justice Messages : 1963-1986, page 126)

Even at this stage then it should be clear why I was excited to find this book. Whether I have made it as exciting for you as yet remains to be seen.

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Kazimierz Dabrowski

Suffering is both a reminder and a guide. It stimulates us better to adapt ourselves to our environmental conditions, and thus leads the way to self improvement. In every suffering one can find a meaning and a wisdom. But it is not always easy to find the secret of that wisdom. It is sometimes only when all our suffering has passed that we become aware of its usefulness. What man considers to be evil turns often to be a cause of infinite blessings.

(Shoghi Effendi: Unfolding Destinypages 134-135)

This is the first of three posts originally published in 2012, then again in 2014 and 2015. It seems doubly appropriate to publish them yet again, both because they follow on naturally from the recently republished posts on the currency of suffering and because Emma’s recent comments on my blog reminded me yet again of the value of his perspective. The posts will be published on consecutive days.

Suffering

Sometimes an issue keeps poking you harder and harder until you simply can’t ignore it anymore. Suffering is one such issue for me at the moment. I did a couple of blog posts on the topic fairly recently and felt I had laid it to rest, if not for good, at least for a very long time. No such luck apparently. I kept producing poems that were locked into its gravitational field. The news keeps thrusting it before our eyes. I began to realise it was not finished with me yet even if I thought that, for my part, I had completely done with it.

Just before I made a recent visit to the Bahá’í Shrines in Haifa and at Bahji, I started a series of blog posts on mental health related issues. A comment was made on one of them:

. . . . two things that have encouraged me to see . . . mental suffering as growth have been developing a deeper spirituality, and learning about a theory of personal growth developed by Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychiatrist/psychologist, known as the “Theory of Positive Disintegration.”

I have to admit I’d never heard of Dabrowski but I’ve learned to catch at the hints life gives when I manage to spot them and I spotted this one. It was the first strong hint of something new in 20th century thinking, a different angle on the issue, and fortunately I snatched at it and obtained a book about his Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD).

I began reading it on the plane out, continued reading it in the Pilgrim House at the Shrine of the Báb after my prayers, and carried on reading it in the plane home. Conversations in the Pilgrim House explored the issue of suffering and some of his ideas. Even BBC iPlayer programmes I was watching on the plane out rubbed my nose in the possible value of suffering.

I heard Dave Davies of the Kinks, in Kinkdom Come, stating at 58 minutes in: ‘If there hadn’t been bad times I might not have have got interested in spiritual things.’

So, here I am blogging about it yet again.

The Effects of Suffering

Stephen Joseph

Perhaps the best place to start is with a recent article in ‘The Psychologist.’ To my surprise, when I got home I found that the latest issue contains an article by Stephen Joseph about the psychology of post-traumatic growth. Trauma can shatter lives, it is true, but for some it seems rather to be an opportunity for growth. He draws an interesting distinction between two kinds of reaction to trauma (page 817):

Those who try to put their lives back together exactly as they were remain fractured and vulnerable. But those who accept the breakage and build themselves anew become more resilient and open to new ways of living.

Work has begun on teasing out what specific factors might be involved in creating this difference in approach (ibid):

Research shows that greater post-traumatic growth is associated with: personality factors, such as emotional stability, extraversion, openness to experience, optimism and self-esteem; ways of coping, such as acceptance, positive reframing, seeking social support, turning to religion, problem solving; and social support factors (Prati & Pietrantoni, 2009).

I wasn’t pleased to see that introversion is not included in the list of factors associated with ‘greater post-traumatic growth’ though it’s good to see that ‘turning to religion’ is definitely one. I remain quietly confident that the positive value of introversion will finally be recognised.

Joseph concludes (ibid):

Psychologists are beginning to realise that post-traumatic stress following trauma is not always a sign of disorder. Instead, post-traumatic stress can signal that the person is going through a normal and natural emotional struggle to rebuild their lives and make sense of what has befallen them. Sadly it often takes a tragic event in our lives before we make such changes. Survivors have much to teach those of us who haven’t experienced such traumas about how to live.

Suffering is not all bad

I have been aware for a long time that suffering is not all bad. In 1993 I had read Charles Tart’s Waking Up.

He argues, in the first part of this book, that most of us are to all intents of purposes asleep, or more accurately in a trance (page 106):

Each of us is in a profound trance, consensus consciousness, the state of partly suspended animation, stupor, of inability to function at our maximum level. Automatised and conditioned patterns of perception, thinking, feeling, and behaving dominate our lives.

He discussed ways of breaking this trance. Self-observation is a key tool. In describing its usefulness he also brings in a crucial insight (page 192):

Self observation is to be practised just as devotedly when you are suffering as when you are happy. Not because you hope that self observation may eventually diminish your sufferings – although it will have that effect – but because you have committed yourself to searching for the truth of whatever is, regardless of your preferences or fears. Indeed, suffering often turns out to be one of your best allies once you have committed yourself to awakening, for it may shock you into seeing aspects of yourself and your world you might never notice otherwise.

Dabrowski’s position, though, is far more complex than this, placing suffering in the context of a whole theory of personality development. A fuller explanation of this will have to wait for the next post. For now it is perhaps useful simply to note how Dabrowski’s idea of suffering seems closely related to Tart’s concept of a trance breaker. Sam Mendaglio, in the book he edited on the subject of TPD, writes (page 23):

Intense negative emotions and moods, typically regarded as impediments to growth and development, actually set the stage for advanced development by their disintegrating power. Intensely negative affective experiences begin the process of loosening a tightly integrated mental organisation. Though painful to individuals, negative emotions – the hallmark of inner conflict – allow people to achieve a more advanced level of human development.

His definition of what he feels lies at the end of this path through pain is of intense interest and concern to anyone seeking to gain support for a spiritual perspective on human suffering (page 23):

A developed human being is characterised by such traits as autonomy, authenticity, and altruism.

That seems as good a place as any to pause for now until the next time.

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Room in the House of the Báb

This year the Bahá’í Calendar celebrates the Declaration of the Báb from sunset on the 22nd till sunset on the 23rd May, the key moments beginning two hours after sunset on the 22nd. I am therefore republishing my usual post explaining the significance of this date and time for Bahá’ís.  

On the 22nd May the world will again start to be circled in celebration. About two hours after sunset, when the new day starts for us, Bahá’ís everywhere will come together to share prayers, readings and music in memory of a very special event. What’s it all about?

In this ordinary room pictured on the left, 166 years ago, an important meeting took place. It began a process that is still unfolding to this day.  For Bahá’ís this meeting has a very special meaning, the full significance of which would not be immediately obvious  to all those attending a typical Holy Day Celebration. This is a brief attempt to unpack its key significance in the words of the central figures of the Faith.

The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith opened his description of the event with these words:

May 23, 1844, signalizes the commencement of the most turbulent period of the Heroic Age of the Bahá’í Era, . . . . . No more than a span of nine short years marks the duration of this most spectacular, this most tragic, this most eventful period of the first Bahá’í century. . . . .

He continued:

The opening scene of the initial act of this great drama was laid in the upper chamber of the modest residence of the son of a mercer of Shiraz, in an obscure corner of that city. The time was the hour before sunset, on the 22nd day of May, 1844. The participants were the Báb, a twenty-five year old siyyid, of pure and holy lineage, and the young Mulla Husayn, the first to believe in Him. Their meeting immediately before that interview seemed to be purely fortuitous. The interview itself was protracted till the hour of dawn.

He quoted the words of Mulla Husayn:

“This Revelation,” Mulla Husayn has . . .  testified, “so suddenly and impetuously thrust upon me, came as a thunderbolt which, for a time, seemed to have benumbed my faculties. I was blinded by its dazzling splendor and overwhelmed by its crushing force. Excitement, joy, awe, and wonder stirred the depths of my soul. .  . . . .

And concludes:

With this historic Declaration the dawn of an Age that signalizes the consummation of all ages had broken.

Shoghi Effendi: God Passes By, Pages: 3-8

(For a more detailed sense of what happened see this link.)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá shown here (at center) with Bahá’ís at Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois, USA, in 1912.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá shown here (at centre) with Bahá’ís at Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois, USA, in 1912 (for source see link).

`Abdu’l-Bahá, in His visit to America in 1912, spoke briefly of the day itself:

It is a blessed day and the dawn of manifestation, for the appearance of the Báb was the early light of the true morn, whereas the manifestation of the Blessed Beauty, Bahá’u’lláh, was the shining forth of the sun. . . . On this day in 1844 the Báb was sent forth heralding and proclaiming the Kingdom of God, announcing the glad tidings of the coming of Bahá’u’lláh and withstanding the opposition of the whole Persian nation.

He then gave a brief outline of the events that followed, detailing the ensuing persecution which was severe and persists, of course, until today in Iran:

Some of the Persians followed Him. For this they suffered the most grievous difficulties and severe ordeals. They withstood the tests with wonderful power and sublime heroism. Thousands were cast into prison, punished, persecuted and martyred. Their homes were pillaged and destroyed, their possessions confiscated. They sacrificed their lives most willingly and remained unshaken in their faith to the very end.

The Báb was subjected to bitter persecution in Shiraz, where He first proclaimed His mission and message. A period of famine afflicted that region, and the Báb journeyed to Isfahan. There the learned men rose against Him in great hostility. He was arrested and sent to Tabriz. From thence He was transferred to Maku and finally imprisoned in the strong castle of Chihriq. Afterward He was martyred in Tabriz.

He holds up the life and sacrifices of the Báb as an example:

We must follow His heavenly example; we must be self-sacrificing and aglow with the fire of the love of God. We must partake of the bounty and grace of the Lord, for the Báb has admonished us to arise in service to the Cause of God, to be absolutely severed from all else save God during the day of the Blessed Perfection, Bahá’u’lláh, to be completely attracted by the love of Bahá’u’lláh, to love all humanity for His sake, to be lenient and merciful to all for Him and to upbuild the oneness of the world of humanity. Therefore, this day, 23 May, is the anniversary of a blessed event.

`Abdu’l-Bahá: Promulgation of Universal Peace, Pages: 138-139

So, there are implications in these events, remote though they seem to most of us in both time and place,  for how we should conduct ourselves today. The Guardian unravelled some of these possibilities in the following passage.

The moment had now arrived for that undying, that world-vitalizing Spirit that was born in Shiraz, that had been rekindled in Tihran, that had been fanned into flame in Baghdad and Adrianople [i.e. the places to which Bahá’u’lláh was successively exiled], that had been carried to the West, and was now illuminating the fringes of five continents, to incarnate itself in institutions designed to canalize its outspreading energies and stimulate its growth. [My emphasis] The Age that had witnessed the birth and rise of the Faith had now closed.  . . . . .

The Formative Period, the Iron Age, of that Dispensation was now beginning, the Age in which the institutions, local, national and international, of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh were to take shape, develop and become fully consolidated, in anticipation of the third, the last, the Golden Age destined to witness the emergence of a world-embracing Order enshrining the ultimate fruit of God’s latest Revelation to mankind, a fruit whose maturity must signalize the establishment of a world civilization and the formal inauguration of the Kingdom of the Father upon earth as promised by Jesus Christ Himself.

(God Passes By, page 324)

Even such a powerful explanation as this does not convey the full impact of this Revelation on the lives of all Bahá’ís nor explain in terms which are easy for everyone to grasp why the core of the Bahá’í vision applies to everyone, Bahá’í and non-Bahá’í alike.

Shrine of the Báb at Night

In 2001 the central body of the Faith wrote a message to all those assembled in Haifa to witness the ceremony that marked the completion of the Terraces that climb above and descend below the Shrine of the Báb. The core paragraphs for our present purpose begin by explaining what the Faith and all our activities within it are for:

Reflection on what the Bahá’í community has accomplished throws into heartbreaking perspective the suffering and deprivation engulfing the great majority of our fellow human beings. It is necessary that it should do so, because the effect is to open our minds and souls to vital implications of the mission Bahá’u’lláh has laid on us. “Know thou of a truth,” He declares, “these great oppressions that have befallen the world are preparing it for the advent of the Most Great Justice.” . . . .  In the final analysis, it is this Divine purpose that all our activities are intended to serve, and we will advance this purpose to the degree that we understand what is at stake in the efforts we are making to teach the Faith, to establish and consolidate its institutions, and to intensify the influence it is exerting in the life of society.

They make completely explicit the change in our way of thinking that is required of us:

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. We demonstrate this commitment, Shoghi Effendi tells us, by our rectitude of conduct towards others, by the discipline of our own natures, and by our complete freedom from the prejudices that cripple collective action in the society around us and frustrate positive impulses towards change.

(From the 24 May 2001 message from the Universal House of Justice to the Believers Gathered for the Events Marking the Completion of the Projects on Mount Carmel)

So, in short, the Báb surrendered His life to show us the way. Bahá’u’lláh endured roughly 50 years of imprisonment, torture and exile as He explained to us in detail what was required. The rest is up to us.

Flowers near the Shrine

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766px-Members_of_the_first_Universal_House_of_Justice,_elected_in_1963

Members of the first Universal House of Justice, elected in 1963 (For source of image see link)

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 last 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 (8 The Universal House of Justice). 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.

Whole Group Session (Slide Presentation)

Essential Background

After the passing of the Guardian in 1957, nine Hands of the Cause selflessly steered the Faith towards the next key development in its unfolding destiny. They organised the process by which the Universal House of Justice would be elected, and then stepped back to allow that institution to lead the Bahá’í community exactly as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had envisaged in His Will & Testament, though sadly, given that Shoghi Effendi had appointed no successor, with no possibility of the continuance of the Guardianship.

Century of Light describes the moment when the Universal House of Justice came into being (page 81):

On 21 April 1963, the ballots of delegates from fifty-six National Spiritual Assemblies . . . . brought into existence the Universal House of Justice, the governing body of the Cause conceived by Bahá’u’lláh and assured by Him unequivocally of Divine guidance in the exercise of its functions . . .

They point towards the difficult decision Shoghi Effendi had had to make (pages 82-83):

. . . . it is clear that Shoghi Effendi early accepted the implications of the fact that the Universal House of Justice could not come into existence until a lengthy process of administrative development had created the supporting structure of National and Local Spiritual Assemblies it required.

It is important we begin to understand the full significance of this election and what it presaged (page 92):

The process leading to the election of the Universal House of Justice . . . . . very likely constituted history’s first global democratic election. Each of the successive elections since then has been carried out by an ever broader and more diverse body of the community’s chosen delegates, a development that has now reached the point that it incontestably represents the will of a cross-section of the entire human race. There is nothing in existence . . . . . that in any way resembles this achievement.

The House then had some significant decisions to make given that it did not have the authority to appoint new Hands of the Cause but their function needed to continue (pages 97-98):

. . . the House of Justice created, in June 1968, the Continental Boards of Counsellors. Empowered to extend into the future the functions of the Hands of the Cause for the protection and propagation of the Faith, the new institution assumed responsibility for guiding the work of the already existing Auxiliary Boards and joined National Assemblies in shouldering responsibilities for the advancement of the Faith. [In 1973 there was] another major development of the Administrative Order, the creation of the International Teaching Centre, the Body that would carry into the future certain of the responsibilities performed by the group of “Hands of the Cause Residing in the Holy Land”, and from this point on coordinate the work of the Boards of Counsellors around the world.

The Period Since Then

There has been a twin impact in terms of the Faith (page 97):

During these crucial thirty- seven years the work proceeded rapidly forward along two parallel tracks: the expansion and consolidation of the Bahá’í community itself and, along with it, a dramatic rise in the influence the Faith came to exercise in the life of society. While the range of Bahá’í activities greatly diversified, most such efforts tended to contribute directly to one or other of the two main developments.

A sequence of seven plans of various durations followed (page 98-99) until ‘Twelve Month Plan that ended the century.’ The strands of activity in each plan built upon those of Shoghi Effendi and the Founders of the Faith: ‘the training of Spiritual Assemblies; the translation, production and distribution of literature; the encouragement of universal participation by the friends; attention to the spiritual enrichment of Bahá’í life; efforts toward the involvement of the Bahá’í community in the life of society; the strengthening of Bahá’í family life; and the education of children and youth.’

The opportunities created were beyond the capacity of any individual to manage (page 100):

. . . it became necessary to ‘launch Bahá’í communities on a wide range of collective teaching and proclamation projects recalling the heroic days of the dawn-breakers.’ Teams of teachers were created and the Faith reached ‘entire groups and even whole communities. The tens of thousands became hundreds of thousands.’

As a result ‘members of Spiritual Assemblies . . . . had to adjust to expressions of belief on the part of whole groups of people to whom religious awareness and response were normal features of daily life.’

The role of the youth was central – not for the first time in the history of the Faith (ibid):

. . . one is reminded again and again that the great majority of the band of heroes who launched the Cause on its course in the middle years of the nineteenth century were all of them young people. The Bab Himself declared His mission when He was twenty-five years old, and Anis, who attained the imperishable glory of dying with his Lord, was only a youth. Quddus responded to the Revelation at the age of twenty-two. . . . . Tahirih was in her twenties when she embraced the Bab’s Cause.’

More challenges followed. Mass enrolments exceeded the community’s capacity to nurture those who had declared their faith in Bahá’u’lláh. Also (page 101)

. . . Theological and administrative principles that might be of consuming interest to pioneers and teachers were seldom those that were central to the concern of new declarants from very different social and cultural backgrounds. Often, differences of view about even such elementary matters as the use of time or simple social conventions created gaps of understanding that made communication extremely difficult.

Though the Bahá’í World Centre emphasised that expansion, the bringing in of newly declared Bahá’ís, and consolidation, their deepening in the Faith, were ‘twin processes that must go hand in hand,’ the ‘hoped for results did not readily materialise’ and ‘a measure of discouragement frequently set in.’ Enrolment slowed ‘tempting some Bahá’í institutions and communities to turn back to more familiar activities and more accessible publics.’

The main impact of the setbacks was to clarify that (page 102) ‘the high expectations of the early years were in some respects quite unrealistic.’ It became obvious that ‘the easy successes of the initial teaching activities . . . did not, by themselves, build a Bahá’í community life that could meet the needs of its new members and be self-generating.’

(End of Presentation: any questions? The video immediately below gives a sense of how the Bahá’í Faith has responded to these challenges: the original can be downloaded at this link.)

Key Questions

Pioneers and new believers faced questions previous experience offered few answers (ibid: my bullet points).

  • How were Local Spiritual Assemblies to be established – and once established, how were they to function – in areas where large numbers of new believers had joined the Cause overnight, simply on the strength of their spiritual apprehension of its truth?
  • How, in societies dominated by men since the dawn of time, were women to be accorded an equal voice?
  • How was the education of large numbers of children to be systematically addressed in cultural situations where poverty and illiteracy prevailed?
  • What priorities should guide Bahá’í moral teaching, and how could these objectives best be related to prevailing indigenous conventions?
  • How could a vibrant community life be cultivated that would stimulate the spiritual growth of its members?
  • What priorities, too, should be set with respect to the production of Bahá’í literature, particularly given the sudden explosion that had taken place in the number of languages represented in the community?
  • How could the integrity of the Bahá’í institution of the Nineteen Day Feast be maintained, while opening this vital activity to the enriching influence of diverse cultures?
  • And, in all areas of concern, how were the necessary resources to be recruited, funded, and coordinated?
  1. How many of these questions do we feel relate to our own situation?
  2. Do we have answers? If so, what are they? If not, what might those answers be?

Page 102: The pressure of these urgent and interlocking challenges launched the Bahá’í world on a learning process that has proved to be as important as the expansion itself. It is safe to say that during these years there was virtually no type of teaching activity, no combination of expansion, consolidation and proclamation, no administrative option, no effort at cultural adaptation that was not being energetically tried in some part of the Bahá’í world.

Group Work

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.

All group members needs to keep their own record of the main points for using in the role play at the end of the group consultation. The notes should be easy to use in a conversation. Both groups will use the same material.

The Bahá'í House of Worship in Delhi, India

The Bahá’í House of Worship in Delhi, India (for source of image see link)

The Integration of Social Action

Page 103: The fact that the Bahá’í message was now penetrating the lives not merely of small groups of individuals but of whole communities also had the effect of reviving a vital feature of an earlier stage in the advancement of the Cause. For the first time in decades, the Faith found itself once more in a situation where teaching and consolidation were inseparably bound up with social and economic development.

An Office of Social and Economic Development was created at the World Centre in October 1983, and ‘Bahá’í communities throughout the world were called on to begin incorporating such efforts into their regular programmes of work.’

Page 104: The temptation was great, given the magnitude of the resources being invested by governments and foundations, and the confidence with which this effort was pursued, merely to borrow methods current at the moment or to adapt Bahá’í efforts to prevailing theories. As the work evolved, however, Bahá’í institutions began turning their attention to the goal of devising development paradigms that could assimilate what they were observing in the larger society to the Faith’s unique conception of human potentialities.

The successive Plans yielded the greatest harvest in India. By 1985 the growth of the Faith there had reached a level a more sharply focused attention was needed ‘than the National Spiritual Assembly alone could provide. Thus was born the new institution of the Regional Bahá’í Council, setting in motion the process of administrative decentralisation that has since proven so effective in many other lands.’

In addition (page 105) ‘India’s House of Worship has become the foremost visitors’ attraction on the subcontinent, welcoming an average of over ten thousand visitors every day, . . . [which] has given new meaning to the description by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá of Bahá’í Temples as “silent teachers” of the Faith.’

Its reputation was now such that the National Spiritual Assembly of India was able to host, ‘in collaboration with the Bahá’í International Community’s newly created Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, a symposium on the subject of “Religion, Science and Development“. More than one hundred of the most influential development organisations in the country participated.

Malaysia began to follow suit. Then Bahá’í communities in Africa (page 106) achieved remarkable spiritual victories, havingsurvived war, terror, political oppression and extreme privations.’

In 1992 (page 107) ‘the Bahá’í world celebrated its second Holy Year, this one marking the centenary of the ascension of Bahá’u’lláh and the promulgation of His Covenant. Truly remarkable was ‘the ethnic, cultural and national diversity of the 27,000 believers who gathered at the Javits Convention Centre in New York City’ together with together with the thousands present at nine auxiliary conferences acorss the world.’

At Ridván 2010, the Universal House of Justice’s message explained that ‘all social action seeks to apply the teachings and principles of the Faith to improve some aspect of the social or economic life of a population, however modestly.’ The Office of Social and Economic Statement (OSED – page 2) amplifies on this:

Most central to this vision was the question of capacity building. That activities should start on a modest scale and only grow in complexity in keeping with available human resources was a concept that gradually came to influence development thought and practice.

They continue (page 4):

Bahá’í activity in the field of social and economic development seeks to promote the well-being of people of all walks of life, whatever their beliefs or background. . . . Its purpose is neither to proclaim the Cause nor to serve as a vehicle for conversion.

Page 5: To seek coherence between the spiritual and the material does not imply that the material goals of development are to be trivialised. It does require, however, the rejection of approaches to development which define it as the transfer to all societies of the ideological convictions, the social structures, the economic practices, the models of governance—in the final analysis, the very patterns of life—prevalent in certain highly industrialized regions of the world. When the material and spiritual dimensions of the life of a community are kept in mind and due attention is given to both scientific and spiritual knowledge, the tendency to reduce development to the mere consumption of goods and services and the naive use of technological packages is avoided.

Page 6: Every member of the human family has not only the right to benefit from a materially and spiritually prosperous civilization but also an obligation to contribute towards its construction. Social action should operate, then, on the principle of universal participation.

The ‘scope and complexity’ (page 9) of such activity must be ‘commensurate with the human resources available in a community to carry it forward.’

Page 13: when an effort is participatory, in the sense that it seeks to involve the people themselves in the generation and application of knowledge, as all forge together a path of progress, dualities such as “outsider-insider” and “knowledgeable-ignorant” quickly disappear.

Capacity Building

Pages 108-09: One of the great strengths of the masses of humankind from among whom the newly enrolled believers came lies in an openness of heart that has the potentiality to generate lasting social transformation. The greatest handicap of these same populations has so far been a passivity learned through generations of exposure to outside influences which, no matter how great their material advantages, have pursued agendas that were often related only tangentially – if at all – to the realities of the needs and daily lives of indigenous peoples.

As a result, ‘the lessons that had been learned during earlier Plans now placed the emphasis on developing the capacities of believers – wherever they might be – so that all could arise as confident protagonists of the Faith’s mission.’ The means to achieve this had been developed from the 1970s in Colombia, ‘against a background of violence and lawlessness that was deranging the life of the surrounding society.’ A ‘systematic and sustained programme of education in the Writings’ had been devised and was ‘soon adopted in neighbouring countries.’

By the time the Four Year Plan ended (pages 109-110) ‘over one hundred thousand believers were involved world-wide in the programmes of the more than three hundred permanent training institutes.’ The process was moved on a stage further ‘by creating networks of “study circles” which utilise the talents of believers to replicate the work of the institute at a local level.’

  1. The word ‘modest’ effectively occurs twice in the quoted passages about social action. Why do we think that is?
  2. How does the idea of ‘capacity building’ translate into this context?
  3. How easy is it for us to step outside the assumptions we have acquired in our ‘industrialised’ (note OSED does not say ‘developed’) society? Why is it so necessary that we do so?
  4. Much of the work within the Bahá’í community has been aimed at breaking the prevalent pattern of passivity and involving an ever-greater proportion of people in its activities. Why do we think this can be so difficult to achieve? What are the influences that militate against this attempt? What are the benefits of breaking this pattern in however small a way?

Group Report Back: this is to be done as an exercise in role play. As far as time permits, one member of each group takes it in turns to explain to a member of the other group what they have learnt and needs to field whatever questions and comments come their way. This should involve those, if any, whom time did not permit to do this earlier. The exact method for this will be determined on the day when we know the exact group sizes.

Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan

Not Just the Bahá’ís

Page 110: The prosecution of the Divine Plan entails no less than the involvement of the entire body of humankind in the work of its own spiritual, social and intellectual development.

Various threads intertwine here.

  1. Involvement in the UN

Pages 115-16: The birth of the United Nations opened to the Faith a far broader and more effective forum for its efforts toward exerting a spiritual influence on the life of society. [In1948] the eight National Spiritual Assemblies then in existence secured from the responsible United Nations body accreditation for “The Bahá’í International Community” as an international non-governmental organisation.

In 1980 (page 117), ‘the attempt by the Shi’ih clergy of Iran to exterminate the Cause in the land of its birth’ catapulted the Bahá’í relationship with the wider world to a new level.’

The Bahá’í response was unusual (page 119):

The persecuted community neither attacked its oppressors, nor sought political advantage from the crisis. Nor did its Bahá’í defenders in other lands call for the dismantling of the Iranian constitution, much less for revenge. All demanded only justice – the recognition of the rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, endorsed by the community of nations, ratified by the Iranian government, and many of them embodied even in clauses of the Islamic constitution.

  1. Justice.

The word ‘justice’ occurs a number of times in Century of Light. It is ‘the best beloved of all things’ in the sight of God, Bahá’u’lláh writes. It entails seeing with our own eyes and not relying on the eyes of others. To get a clearer sense of how the Bahá’í community sees this principle operating at the highest level of the wider society it is perhaps worth pausing to look at a statement that has been twice presented to the UN before we continue with the issue of the human rights of the Bahá’ís in Iran.

In terms of both the individual and the legal system the Bahá’í position is as follows (from Turning Point – pages 10-11 – and from Prosperity of Humankind – pages 6-8):

In any system of governance, a strong judicial function is necessary to moderate the powers of the other branches and to enunciate, promulgate, protect and deliver justice. The drive to create just societies has been among the fundamental forces in history and without doubt no lasting world civilization can be founded unless it is firmly grounded in the principle of justice.

Justice is the one power that can translate the dawning consciousness of humanity’s oneness into a collective will through which the necessary structures of global community life can be confidently erected. An age that sees the people of the world increasingly gaining access to information of every kind and to a diversity of ideas will find justice asserting itself as the ruling principle of successful social organization.

At the individual level, justice is that faculty of the human soul that enables each person to distinguish truth from falsehood. In the sight of God, Bahá’u’lláh avers, justice is “the best beloved of all things” since it permits each individual to see with his own eyes rather than the eyes of others, to know through his own knowledge rather than the knowledge of his neighbour or his group.

At the group level, a concern for justice is the indispensable compass in collective decision-making, because it is the only means by which unity of thought and action can be achieved. Far from encouraging the punitive spirit that has often masqueraded under its name in past ages, justice is the practical expression of awareness that, in the achievement of human progress, the interests of the individual and those of society are inextricably linked. To the extent that justice becomes a guiding concern of human interaction, a consultative climate is encouraged that permits options to be examined dispassionately and appropriate courses of action selected. In such a climate the perennial tendencies toward manipulation and partisanship are far less likely to deflect the decision-making process.

Such a conception of justice will be gradually reinforced by the realization that in an interdependent world, the interests of the individual and society are inextricably intertwined. In this context, justice is a thread that must be woven into the consideration of every interaction, whether in the family, the neighbourhood, or at the global level.

  1. Persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran

While progress was slow and complete reversal of the persecution was not achieved (page 121), ‘In time, the United Nations Human Rights Commission, however slow and relatively cumbersome its operations may appear to some outside observers, succeeded in compelling the Iranian regime to bring the worst of the persecution to a halt. . .’

As a result of the persecution the Bahá’í community (ibid) has learnt ‘how to use the United Nations’ human rights system in the manner intended by that system’s creators, without having recourse to involvement in political partisanship of any kind, much less violence.’

  1. Promoting Peace

In 1985 (page 122), as the Iranian crisis was unfolding, the Universal House of Justice issued through National Spiritual Assemblies the statement The Promise of World Peace, addressed to the generality of humankind. In ‘unprovocative but uncompromising terms’ the document expressed ‘Bahá’í confidence in the advent of international peace as the next stage in the evolution of society.’

  1. The Bahá’í International Community

The Bahá’í International Community (pages 122-23) ‘became, in only a few short years, one of the most influential of the non-governmental organisations . . . Because it is, and is seen to be, entirely non-partisan, it has increasingly been trusted as a mediating voice in complex, and often stressful, discussions in international circles on major issues of social progress. This reputation has been strengthened by appreciation of the fact that the Community refrains, on principle, from taking advantage of such trust to press partisan agendas of its own.’

  1. Publications

Page 140: This process [of spiritual empowerment] was immeasurably strengthened in 1992 through the long-awaited publication of a fully-annotated translation into English of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, a repository of Divine guidance for the age of humanity’s collective maturity.

  1. The Unity of the Bahá’í Spiritual and Administrative Centres

Page 142: In contrast to the circumstances of other world religions, the spiritual and administrative centres of the Cause are inseparably bound together in this same spot on earth, its guiding institutions centred on the Shrine of its martyred Prophet. For many visitors, even the harmony that has been achieved in the variegated flowers, trees and shrubs of the surrounding gardens seems to proclaim the ideal of unity in diversity that they find attractive in the Faith’s teachings.

Final Questions (hopefully 30 minutes!)

It is clear that on the world’s stage the Bahá’í community has achieved increasing prominence over the years, first through the travels of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, then through the campaigns launched by Shoghi Effendi, later by our involvement at the UN and finally by increasingly effective programmes of expansion, consolidation and social action.

  1. Where does that leave us now – whether as members of the Bahá’í community or of the wider society?
  2. What are our respective roles?

3. How do we play our different parts in the context of what we have learnt about the world right now?

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Shoghi Effendi

Return, then, and cleave wholly unto God, and cleanse thine heart from the world and all its vanities, and suffer not the love of any stranger to enter and dwell therein. Not until thou dost purify thine heart from every trace of such love can the brightness of the light of God shed its radiance upon it, for to none hath God given more than one heart. . . . .  And as the human heart, as fashioned by God, is one and undivided, it behoveth thee to take heed that its affections be, also, one and undivided. Cleave thou, therefore, with the whole affection of thine heart, unto His love, and withdraw it from the love of any one besides Him, that He may aid thee to immerse thyself in the ocean of His unity, and enable thee to become a true upholder of His oneness., the Exalted, the Great.

(Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh: page 52)

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 seventh 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 (7 The Guardianship). 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.

Whole Group Session (Slide Presentation)

The Situation the Guardian Was Faced With

Before we look at the implications of the Guardian’s ministry for us now, we need to understand the situation in which he had to operate. As we have seen, he assumed his role in 1923 between two world wars. This helps us (page 45) ‘to understand the magnitude of the challenge facing Shoghi Effendi at the outset of his ministry.’ The situation was bleak: ‘there was nothing that would have inspired confidence that the vision of a new world bequeathed him by the Founders of the Bahá’í Cause could be significantly advanced during whatever span of years might be allowed him.’

Nor were the resources within the Bahá’í community apparently adequate to the task (ibid): ‘Nor did the instrument available to him appear to possess the strength, the resilience or the sophistication his task required. . . . . the core of Bahá’u’lláh’s followers consisted of the body of believers in Iran, of whose number not even a reliable estimate could have then been produced.’

Consultation with leading Bahá’ís made it clear (page 46) that ‘the creation of an international secretariat would be not only useless, but probably counterproductive.’ The daunting reality was that Shoghi Effendi was alone in his monumental task: ‘How completely alone he was is almost impossible for the present generation of Bahá’ís to grasp; to the extent one does grasp it, the realisation is acutely painful.’

He candidly explained the implications to the Bahá’ís (page 83): ‘Shoghi Effendi proceeded with scrupulous regard for the constraints placed on him by circumstance, a faithfulness that will be the pride of Bahá’u’lláh’s followers throughout the ages to come. The record of his thirty-six years of service to the Faith . . . contains . . . no action on his part that would in any degree “infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain” of the Universal House of Justice.’

Bahiyyih Khanum (For source of image see link)

Bahiyyih Khanum (For source of image see link)

The members of his own family, who should have supported him, took every opportunity to do exactly the opposite (page 47). Only the sister of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stepped forward to help him (page 48): ‘Bahiyyih Khanum played a vital role in guarding the interests of the Cause after the Master’s death and became Shoghi Effendi’s sole effective support. Her fidelity evoked from his pen perhaps the most deeply moving passages he was ever to write.’ After her passing in 1932 he sent a letter to the Bahá’ís “throughout the West”, which read in part:

Which of the blessings am I to recount, which in her unfailing solicitude she showered upon me, in the most critical and agitated hours of my life? To me, standing in so dire a need of the vitalizing grace of God, she was the living symbol of many an attribute I had learned to admire in ‘Abdu’l- Bahá.

His aim was crystal clear (page 49): ‘. . . . . ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had been . . . . emphatic in asserting, as already noted, that the revolutionary changes taking place in every field of human endeavour now made the unification of humanity a realistic objective. It was this vision that, for the thirty-six years of his Guardianship, provided the organising force of Shoghi Effendi’s work.’

The path towards it was fraught with difficulties (pages 53-54): ‘Fully aware of the condition into which society had fallen, the consequences of his betrayal at the hands of family members on whose assistance he should have been able to rely, and the relative weakness of the resources available to him in the Bahá’í community itself, Shoghi Effendi arose to forge the means needed to realise the mission bequeathed to him.’

In the end (page 83) ‘In important respects Shoghi Effendi may be said to have extended by an additional, critical, thirty-six years the influence of the guiding hand of the Master in the building of the Administrative Order and the expansion and consolidation of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. One has only to make the fearful effort of imagining the fate of the infant Cause of God had it not been held firmly, during the period of its greatest vulnerability, in the grip of one who had been prepared for this purpose by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and who accepted to serve – in the fullest sense of the word – as its Guardian.’

His achievement was truly remarkable. He could (page 85) ‘look nowhere but to the Writings of the Founders of the Faith and the example of the Master for the guidance his work required.’ He had no advisors. His wide reading ‘could do no more than supply raw materials that his inspired vision of the Cause must then organise.’ Not even the most sceptical ‘can fail to acknowledge that the integrity with which a young man in his early twenties accepted so awesome a responsibility – and the magnitude of the victory he won – are evidences of an immense spiritual power inherent in the Cause he championed.’

(End of Presentation: any questions?)

Groupwork

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.

All group members needs to keep their own record of the main points for using in the role play at the end of the group consultation. The notes should be easy to use in a conversation. Both groups will use the same material.

We need to look at the developments Shoghi Effendi engineered under two main headings:

  1. The Value of Administration

Page 54: It fell to Shoghi Effendi, however, to assist the community to understand the place and role of these national and local consultative bodies in the framework of the Administrative Order created by Bahá’u’lláh and elaborated in the provisions of the Master’s Will and Testament. An obstacle faced by a significant number of believers in this respect was the unexamined assumption of many that the Cause was essentially a “spiritual” association in which organisation, while not necessarily antithetical, did not constitute an inherent feature of the Divine purpose. Emphasising that the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and the Will and Testament “are not only complementary, but … mutually confirm one another, and are inseparable parts of one complete unit”, the Guardian invited the believers to reflect deeply on a central truth of the Cause they had embraced:

Few will fail to recognize that the Spirit breathed by Bahá’u’lláh upon the world, and which is manifesting itself with varying degrees of intensity through the efforts consciously displayed by His avowed supporters and indirectly through certain humanitarian organisations, can never permeate and exercise an abiding influence upon mankind unless and until it incarnates itself in a visible Order, which would bear His name, wholly identify itself with His principles, and function in conformity with His laws.

I will repeat again here the quote used earlier from Cultural Creatives by Ray and Anderson (page 246):

Cultural Creatives may be leading the way with responses directed towards healing and integration rather than battle. For these responses to contribute to the creation of a new culture, grassroots activism and social movements will have to evolve into new institutions. . . . [W]hile new social movements are transitory, institutions can turn the energies of these movements into everyday action.

  1. What might have been, and perhaps still is, so difficult about seeing spirituality and organisation as compatible?
  2. How can we move beyond this apparent conflict and carry a whole community with us in a spirit of what the Universal House of Justice terms ‘efficiency and love’?

2. Implementing a Divine Plan

Our struggle to integrate spirituality with planning had to be addressed by the Guardian.

Page 66: With the administrative structure of the Cause taking shape, Shoghi Effendi turned his attention to the task he had been compelled to delay for so long, the implementation of the Master’s Divine Plan.

Page 67: The two chief instruments by which Shoghi Effendi set about cultivating a heightened devotion to teaching in both East and West were the same as those on which the Master had relied. A steady stream of letters to communities and individuals alike opened up for the recipients new dimensions in the beliefs they had embraced. The most important of these communications, however, now became those addressed to National and Local Spiritual Assemblies. Their effect was intensified by the stream of returning pilgrims who shared insights gained by direct contact with the Centre of the Cause. Through these connections every individual believer was encouraged to see himself or herself as an instrument of the power flowing through the Covenant.

In 1944 God Passes By was published (page 70):

History is a powerful instrument. At its best, it provides a perspective on the past and casts a light on the future. It populates human consciousness with heroes, saints and martyrs whose example awakens in everyone touched by it capacities they had not imagined they possessed. It helps make sense of the world – and of human experience. It inspires, consoles and enlightens. It enriches life. In the great body of literature and legend that it has left to humanity, history’s hand can be seen at work shaping much of the course of civilisation . . . . . .

God Passes By elevates this great work of the mind to a level ardently striven after but never attained in any of ages past.

Page 77: [In 1952] [b]efore the believers could celebrate these achievements, a new challenge of staggering proportions was unveiled by Shoghi Effendi. Impelled by historic forces that only he was in a position to appreciate, the Guardian announced the launching at the forthcoming Ridván of a decade-long, world-embracing Plan, which he designated a “Spiritual Crusade“.

Page 78: In effect, the Plan called for the Cause to make a giant leap forward over what might otherwise have been several stages in its evolution. What Shoghi Effendi saw clearly – and what only the powers of foresight inherent in the Guardianship made it possible to see – was that an historical conjunction of circumstances presented the Bahá’í community with an opportunity that would not come again and on which the success of future stages in the prosecution of the Divine Plan would entirely depend.

Page 80: As the conception of the Ten Year Crusade took shape in his mind, Shoghi Effendi moved to mobilise the spiritual support [the institution of the Hands of the Cause of God[1]] could bring to achieving the tasks of the Plan. In a cablegram of 24 December 1951, he announced the appointment of the first contingent of twelve Hands of the Cause of God, allocated equally to the work in the Holy Land, in Asia, the Americas and Europe. These distinguished servants of the Cause were called upon to focus directly on the challenge of mobilizing the energies of the friends and providing the elected bodies with encouragement and counsel. Shortly thereafter the number of Hands of the Cause was raised from twelve to nineteen.

The resources available for the discharge of this responsibility were greatly increased by the Guardian’s decision in October 1952, calling on the Hands of the Cause to create five auxiliary boards, one for each continent: . . . Subsequently, separate auxiliary boards were created to assist with the protection of the Faith, the other of the two chief functions of the Hands of the Cause.

  1. Letters and books are still a key means of communication for the World Centre with the Bahá’í community. How easy do we all find it to read and relate to these documents?
  2. Are we able to use them effectively as a way of deepening our understanding of and engagement with the plans of the Faith?
  3. Many Bahá’ís, as well as their friends and family, visit the Bahá’í World Centre. Do we feel that the spirit of this infuses the lives of our communities and impacts upon our thinking and behaviour as visits to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Guardian clearly did for the Bahá’ís of the past?
  4. We still have Auxiliary Board members, but the Hands of the Cause have all passed away, and now it is the Counsellors who perform their role (we will explore that in more detail in the next session). How hard do we feel it is, in the sceptical and materialistic climate of the current Western world, for the Counsellors to seek to emulate the impact of the heroic sacrifices of the Hands of the Cause?

Group Report Back: this is to be done as an exercise in role play. As far as time permits, one member of each group takes it in turns to explain to a member of the other group what they have learnt and needs to field whatever questions and comments come their way. This should involve those, if any, whom time did not permit to do this earlier. The exact method for this will be determined on the day when we know the exact group sizes.

Shoghi Effendi passed away in London in 1957, and is buried at the New Southgate cemetery. (For source of image see link)

Shoghi Effendi passed away in London in 1957, and is buried at the
New Southgate cemetery. (For source of image see link)

 Pause of Reflection

If there is time let us pause for a few moments to reflect quietly in the way we have learnt, on a passage we have memorised or else begin to memorise the quotation at the head of this handout.

The Passing of the Guardian

Page 81: Less than a month thereafter, the Bahá’í world was devastated by the news of Shoghi Effendi’s death on 4 November 1957 from complications following an attack of Asiatic influenza contracted during the course of a visit to London. The Centre of the Cause who, for thirty-six years, had day by day guided its evolution, whose vision encompassed both the flow of events and the actions the Bahá’í community must take, and whose messages of encouragement had been the spiritual lifeline of countless Bahá’ís around the planet, was suddenly gone, leaving the great Crusade half finished and the future of the Administrative Order in crisis.

Page 84: It is not only that Shoghi Effendi refrained from legislation; he was able to fulfil his mandate by introducing no more than provisional ordinances, leaving decisions in such matters entirely to the Universal House of Justice.

Nowhere is this self-restraint more striking than in the central issue of a successor to the Guardianship. Shoghi Effendi had no heirs of his own, and the other branches of the Holy family had violated the Covenant. The Bahá’í Writings contain no guidance in such an eventuality, but the Will and Testament of the Master is explicit as to how all matters that are unclear are to be resolved:

It is incumbent upon these members (of the Universal House of Justice) to gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book. Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself.

In conformity with this guidance from the pen of the Centre of the Covenant, Shoghi Effendi remained silent, leaving the question of his successor or successors in the hands of the Body alone authorized to determine the matter.

It is to the issue of that successor that we return after lunch.

[1] During His own lifetime, Bahá’u’lláh had appointed a few distinguished Bahá’ís as “Hands of the Cause of God”. Their role was formally defined by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Will and Testament, where He emphasized and clarified their responsibilities, including protecting and propagating the Faith. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote that the Guardian must appoint and direct future Hands of the Cause. During the last six years of his life, Shoghi Effendi named 32 Bahá’ís as Hands of the Cause. When he passed away, 27 of them were still living. In a message penned just weeks before his passing, Shoghi Effendi referred to the Hands of the Cause of God as “the Chief Stewards of Bahá’u’lláh’s embryonic World Commonwealth”.

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The Guardian's Resting Place

The Guardian’s Resting Place

I have just finished reading Kevin Beint’s Spiritual Destiny of the English Language. It successfully combines an overview of the history of the English language with a history of the important part English played in the development of the Bahá’í Faith.

All this is achieved in an accessible style. He unpacks, amongst other things, the importance of metaphor, with its ‘layers of meanings’ (page 25), to the conveyance of spiritual truths, the under-rated contribution of women in the development of English literature and the gradual emergence of African American voices. He traces the rise of English to its present status as the second language of a significant proportion of the world’s population. He acknowledges that this could change but feels (page 76) that ‘[t]o make sense of the current world and derive solutions to its many challenges it presumably helps greatly if the language used is one that through experience has absorbed and acquired sufficient vocabulary, concepts and flexibility to serve this need. Language can, indeed, be a servant to change. It can be argued that in the last two hundred years English has provided that service like no other language.’

He then moves to exploring how, through the efforts of the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith with the help of certain key figures such as Lady Blomfield, Ethel Rosenberg, George Townsend and John Esslemont, English became the means of making key texts of Bahá’í Scripture accessible to the Western world and beyond. English facilitated their translation into many other languages over time.

In addition, during his Ministry as Guardian, oceans of guidance in English poured from Shoghi Effendi’s pen, all of which helped believers across the world begin to lay the all-important foundations of the Bahá’í administrative order. His key work on the history of the Bahá’í Faith, ‘God Passes By, was written in English. Kevin concludes (page 165): ‘. . . .it would seem that English was, like no other language of the time, at the service of Bahá’u’lláh. A ‘spiritual’ service that, as a result of the breadth of its literature and its turbulent religious and political history, interwoven with reform in the world, was its destiny.’

For anyone interested in either of these aspects, this book is well worth exploring. The book is self-published and anyone interested in buying it should contact Kevin on his LinkedIn page at the following link or via his blog. The proceeds of the sale will go to fund work currently in progress to enhance and maintain the site of the Resting Place of Shoghi Effendi. The cost of the book is £10 with total proceeds to go to the Guardian’s Resting Place Endowment Fund. If you wish to order directly in the UK, the book is available from Kevin Beint, 50 Laureston Drive Leicester LE2 2AQ. Cheques should be made out for £12 to cover £2 for P&P.

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