Posts Tagged ‘Universal House of Justice’

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers . . .

(William Wordsworth – Sonnet)

If I pause to think for a moment, I can easily imagine a massive groan exuding from any audience of mine as soon as the word ‘materialism’ passes from my lips or through my pen.

‘Will he never stop banging on about this?’ I hear them roar.

Well, I hate to say this, but probably never.

Those who have had the patience to read through my sequence about my Parliament of Selves will know that a battle has raged within me between the sub-personalities who favour poetry, meditation and the exploration of consciousness, and the sub-personalities who are committed to what they would regard as real action against our toxic challenges, such as the climate crisis.

As the controlling consciousness, I have a similar passion about how evil materialism is – in fact it maybe the underlying disease of which global heating is just the worst and most terrifying symptom.  Maybe my fight against materialism is a valid kind of activism after all, even though waged almost entirely in words on this blog. Not sure if that idea would satisfy the activists in my Parliament of Selves though.

What I hope to explore here is why a reductionist belief that matter is all there is and spirit or soul is just a distracting myth is profoundly mistaken. I’ll be drawing on Alexander and Newell’s book but also straying into all sorts of other territory.

A Vision of Something Higher

Viv Bartlett, a Bahá’í colleague, in his recent book, Navigating Materialistic Minefields, which was published shortly before his death, asks a profoundly important question:[1] ‘How, we may ask, can humanity progress without a vision of something higher, more enthralling than that which presently exists?’

I’ve asked a similar question, triggered by Jeremy Rifkin’s The Empathic Civilisation: do we need a transcendent focus? At the end of a long sequence about his book I concluded that, while I accept that the capacity for a high degree of empathy is wired into our brains, I also strongly believe that a higher level again can be reached, with proportionately more leverage in terms of sustained action, if we also can internalise a sense of what the Quakers term ‘That of God’ which is in all of us. Then we will not only have a strong sense of our links to one another but we will also have the confidence to act against apparently overwhelming odds that comes from the knowledge that we human beings are not alone. Bahá’u’lláh says:[2]

Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.

Only when we have such a sense of powerful support and shared humanity does it seem to me that we can reach that tipping point, when most of the world of humanity will be prepared and able to put their weight effectively against the wheel of redemptive change for as long as is needed, and only then will disaster be averted. Pray God that moment will not come too late for us.

I felt that Rifkin had done his best in his impressive book to suggest one possible path towards a secure future – an identification with Gaia, our planet. Those who follow his line of thinking and put it into practice will surely do some good. They could do so much more if they had faith in an effectively benign power higher than the planet we are seeking to save and which needs our urgent help.

Viv’s conclusion, encapsulated in a quotation from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá,[3] nails it:[4] ‘Man must attach himself to an infinite reality, so that his glory, his joy, and his progress maybe infinite.’

What’s Stopping Us?

This is a fairly simple question to answer at its most basic level. Too many of us are buying into the default dogmatic delusion of materialism that is subliminally conveyed by almost every mainstream aspect of our culture, until we are induced into what Charles Tart calls a ‘consensus trance.’

In his book Waking Up,[5] which featured in an earlier sequence, Charles Tart uses the term ‘consensus consciousness’ to describe how our culture and life experiences shape our perceptions of the world. This effect is so strong that he goes onto describe it as a state of mind that is definitely not an enviable one:

. . . . consensus trance is expected to be permanent rather than merely an interesting experience that is strictly time-limited. The mental, emotional, and physical habits of a lifetime are laid down while we are especially vulnerable and suggestible as children. Many of these habits are not just learned but conditioned; that is, they have that compulsive quality that conditioning has.

Bernard Haisch unpacks one of the fundamental tenets of materialism, which is randomness. Haisch contends that:[6]

[R]andomness is the conviction that natural processes follow the laws of chance within their allowed range of behaviour. Given those beliefs there is one and only one way to explain the fine-tuning of the universe. An infinite number of universes must exist, each with unique properties, each randomly different from the other, with ours only seemingly special because in a universe with different properties we would never have originated. Our existence is only possible in this particular universe, hence the tuning is an illusion.

It leads to the multiverse hypothesis, the supposedly only viable way of explaining how life can exist at all when it depends upon such a finely tuned and impossibly improbable set of preconditions.

Most of us in the West have been successfully indoctrinated into accepting whatever our successful and apparently trustworthy doctrine of scientism pronounces as the truth. Haisch doesn’t buy into this myth for one minute:[7]

The evidence for the existence of an infinite conscious intelligence is abundant in the accounts of mystics and the meditative, prayerful, and sometimes spontaneous exceptional experiences of human beings throughout history. The evidence for random universes is precisely zero. Most scientists will reject the former type of evidence as merely subjective, but that simply reduces the contest of views to a draw: zero on both sides.

The odds are so daunting Paul Davies, in The Goldilock’s Enigma, almost threw up his hands in despair:[8]

So, how come existence? . . . all the approaches seem . . . hopelessly inadequate: a unique universe which just happens to permit life by a fluke; a stupendous number of alternative . . . universes . . .; a pre-existing God . . .; or a self-creating . . . universe with observers. . . Perhaps we have reached a fundamental impasse dictated by the limitations of the human intellect.

Others are more dogmatic, so dogmatic in fact they refuse to accept the possibility of evidence to the contrary because they are so convinced that no evidence can possibly exist to support what they believe is impossible.

Viv Bartlett quotes Haisch:[9]

A conversation between philosopher Neal Grossman and an academic colleague underlines this point. Bernard Haisch, in his book The God Theory, writes about this conversation:

‘. . . The academic cavalierly dismisses accurately reported details of near death experiences that could only have been perceived from vantage points outside the body as coincidences and lucky guesses. An exasperated Grossman finally asks: ‘what will it take, short of having a near death experience yourself, to convince you that they are real?’ Rising to the occasion… the academic response: ‘if I had a near death experience myself, I would conclude that I was hallucinating, rather than believe my mind can exist independent my brain.’ Then, to dispose of the annoying evidence once and for all, the champion of enquiry confidently states that the concept of mind existing independent of matter has been shown to be a false theory, and there can be no evidence for something that is false. Grossman observes: ‘This was a momentous experience for me, because here was an educated, intelligent man telling me that he will not give up materialism, no matter what.’

The result is that information is buried that might shake our belief in materialism. Mishlove brings in a professor to explain it:[10]

Jeffrey Krippal, professor of philosophy and religious thought at Rice University, suggests that near-death experiences and after-death communications are much more common than we typically realise. Social pressure is still suppressing the data. Public discussion of post-mortem survival is relatively rare. The reason is that we are afraid of our own supernature . . .

Scientism has even invented what seems to be a plausible copout. Alexander explains the premise they use as the foundation stone upon which to build their castle in the air:[11]

One such metaphysical assumption (referred to as metaphysical because it is at the foundation of our thinking) is that only the physical world exists, a position known in science as materialism (also called physicalism).

And quotes a so-called scientist to flag up the supposedly unassailable defence:[12]

Novella seemed satisfied merely to declare that one day actual evidence would be found to support their assumptions (known as “promissory materialism”).

(And incidentally too many scientists are too afraid to jeopardise their careers to stand up and be counted.)

What effectively proves that this position is fundamentally at odds with true science is its failure to operate on the core requirement of scientific investigation, as Alexander and Newell explain:[13]

I have come to see that true open-minded scepticism is one of the most powerful commodities in this enterprise. However, most of those in our culture who proudly claim to be sceptics are actually just the opposite — . . . Their mindset is the antithesis of what many hold to be the ideal of scientific thinking – approaching such deep questions with the most open mind possible, untainted by premature conclusions.

Experience around the world is littered with evidence that calls the reductionist position into question, what Alexander and Newell call ‘black swans’:[14]

NDE reports by the tens of thousands – and similarly numerous reports of deathbed visions, after-death communications, shared-death experiences, and past-life memories of children indicative of reincarnation – represent data that demand explanation if one has any interest in understanding the world as it is, and not just as they think it should be.

Experience requires dispassionate exploration if we are ever to understand what it really means. That the spiritual dimension is invisible does not warrant our contemptuous dismissal of its possible existence, but here we find scientism’s double standard hiding in plain sight:[15]

[Black swan data are dismissed but . . .] the existence of [invisible] neutrinos is not in doubt to most physicists, neutrinos being a very subtle form of matter, yet their existence is crucial to evolving models of subatomic physics. The fact that they are not as obvious as Canada does not mean they do not exist.

Applying such a double standard makes it next to impossible for [NDE] research studies ever to demonstrate significance.

Limitations of Methodology

Another key obstacle to gaining wider acceptance of anomalous experiences in scientific circles is the challenges of replicating them in laboratory conditions.

I have already touched on this in my review of Bruce Greyson’s book After.

Attempts to provide an even more rigorous methodology may have failed, not because the NDEs were inauthentic but because the methods adopted were inappropriate to the task. A good example is the idea of placing targets close to the ceiling in the hope that experiencers would spot them. Consultations with a group of NDE experiencers flagged up the problem with this approach very clearly and, in my view, convincingly. Greyson described what happened:[16]

When I discussed [my] research findings at a conference attended by a large number of people who had had NDES, they were astounded at what they considered my naivete in carrying out this study. Why, they argued, would patients whose hearts had just stopped and who were being resuscitated – patients who were stunned by their unexpected separation from their bodies – go looking around the hospital room for a hidden image that has no relevance to them, but that some researcher had designated as the “target”?

This also resonates with what Julie Beischel writes in Leslie Kean’s Surviving Death about mediumship studies:[17]

The analogy I like to use is that a mediumship study in which the environment is not optimised for mediumship to happen is akin to placing a seed on a tabletop and then claiming the seed is a fraud when it doesn’t sprout.

Alexander and Newell are on essentially the same page:[18] ‘The elaborate process of setting up a scientific assessment of prayer in a controlled setting often strips much of the spiritual energy out of the endeavour.’

‘Doubt Wisely’

What all too often makes materialism, and its sibling, scientism, delusional is the toxic degree of certainty some of us invest in it, something which leads us to dismiss a priori any evidence that contradicts what we have decided to conclude is absolutely true, regardless of the possible strength of that evidence.

Perhaps it is also important to clarify that making this argument does not necessarily mean that I am trying to meet reductionist dogmatism with spiritual fundamentalism. The arguments and evidence I have marshalled here and elsewhere do not prove there are ghosts or gods. It simply convincingly demonstrates that there is something more than matter that needs to be included in our paradigm.

I have, of course, chosen to go further than that, but am happy to admit that this is a personal act of faith, something which dogmatic materialists seems extremely reluctant to admit in their turn: they too have made a leap of faith. To me the choice I’ve made seems both more fulfilling and more realistic than placing my faith in matter.

Significantly, though I have decided to believe in a God, a spiritual dimension and an after life, and also to trust what Bahá’u’lláh tells me, I know that I cannot trust my understanding of any of these things. I know the first three of these exist but even with Bahá’u’lláh’s help I have no certainty about the nature of God, only a vague idea of what the spiritual dimension might be, and harbour slightly stronger impressions of what the afterlife might be like, derived largely from survivors’ descriptions of near-death-experiences (NDEs), which one experiencer described as being like ‘trying to paint a smell.’ I try to follow John Donne’s advice in Satire III and ‘doubt wisely’ – I only wish the followers of dogmatically materialistic scientism would do the same.

The cost of materialism

The delusional state I have attempted to subvert is not just a harmless choice of perspective.

It paves the way for and even fosters destructive cultural consequences such as our blind faith in neoliberal capitalism, the glorification of individualism, and Ayn Rand’s vilification of altruism, to name but a few.

I think I’ll leave the final words of this post to more eloquent sources. In Century of Light, in which the Universal House of Justice encapsulates its perspective on the world during the previous century, we find:[19]

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.

Materialism is a kind of religion, in their view:[20]

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.

Time to stop now.

Living in a Mindful Universe also deals with many other important topics including the meaning of suffering, health, the importance of nature and reincarnation. More on some of that next time.


[1]. Navigating Materialistic Minefields – page 160.

[2]. The Hidden Words – Arabic no. 13.

[3]. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on Divine Philosophy – pages 136-37.

[4]. Navigating Materialistic Minefields — page 147.

[5]. Waking Up – page 95.

[6]. The God Theory – iBooks page 16.

[7]. Op cit. – pages 18-19.

[8]. The Goldilocks Enigma – pages 292-93.

[9]. Navigating Materialistic Minefields – pages 114-15.

[10]. Beyond the Brain – page 95.

[11]. Living in a Mindful Universe – page 121.

[12]. Op. cit – page 121.

[13]. Op. cit. – pages 132 -33.

[14]. Op. cit. – page 136.

[15]. Op. cit. – page 139.

[16]. After – page 74.

[17]. Surviving Death – page 172.

[18]. Living in a Mindful Universe – page 262.

[19]. Century of Light – page 136.

[20]. Century of Light – pages 89-90.

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© Bahá’í World Centre


(‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Paris Talks, page 99)

From time to time it comes to seem appropriate to republish a much earlier sequence from 2009 on the Bahá’í approach to healing our wounded world. My recent republishing of the sequence on Alexander and Newell’s Living in a Mindful Universe  seemed an appropriate trigger. 

What do we do?

We have looked at the plight of children. We must face the truth. We are all responsible and we all need to respond to the challenge: we must all do everything in our power to change this situation for the better. The same message already quoted from our world centre states:

Our worldwide community cannot escape the consequences of these conditions. This realisation should spur us all to urgent and sustained action in the interests of children and the future.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

Obviously the whole problem cannot be fixed overnight but we have to start somewhere. This need to do what we can sustain over a long period, however small a step that may seem, has led to a concerted attempt to provide classes for children in as many localities as we can using all the resources currently at our disposal, though these are as yet inadequate to the task that faces us:

Aware of the aspirations of the children of the world and their need for spiritual education, they extend their efforts widely to involve ever-growing contingents of participants in classes that become centres of attraction for the young and strengthen the roots of the Faith in society.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2008)

Young people, on the threshold of independence, have comparable needs which we are seeking to learn how to meet:

[We] assist junior youth to navigate through a crucial stage of their lives and to become empowered to direct their energies toward the advancement of civilization.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2008)

JY KIR_0863

How should we treat them?

We must appreciate fully and whole-heartedly

. . . the imperative to tend to the needs of the children of the world and offer them lessons that develop their spiritual faculties and lay the foundations of a noble and upright character. . . [and] the full significance of [our] efforts to help young people form a strong moral identity in their early adolescent years and empower them to contribute to the well-being of their communities.

(Universal House of Justice: 20 October 2008

Character building and society building are inextricably linked. The positive results of doing it properly are beyond dispute.

But how do we do it?

The House of Justice seek to define the qualities a community should possess:

An all-embracing love of children, the manner of treating them, the quality of the attention shown them, the spirit of adult behaviour toward them – these are all among the vital aspects of the requisite attitude. Love demands discipline,  the courage to accustom children to hardship, not to indulge their whims or leave them entirely to their own devices.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

It is perhaps worth dwelling a little on what they might mean by discipline and hardship, not positive ideas in many people’s thinking today.

Layard and Dunn, in an article in the  Sunday Times on 1st February describe four styles of parenting and point out what they feel is the optimal. These are: disciplined, authoritative, neglectful and permissive.

Researchers have studied the effects of each upon the way in which children develop. They agree that the style that is loving and yet firm – now known in the jargon as authoritative – is the most effective. In this approach boundaries are explained, in the context of a warm, loving relationship. Without boundaries and the management of frustration that these require children to learn, it is hard for them to develop the kind of impulse control that the work on emotional intelligence suggests underpins a successful life in society. All too often childhoods are  seriously warped by indulgent neglect, though it is the cruelty of an abusive background that more often hits the headlines.

More recent work highlights the way our schools are increasingly focused on preparing our children for the competitive employment market place, and neglecting other important elements of character-building. Speaking of the American system, John Fitzgerald Medina, in his thought-provoking book Faith, Physics & Psychology writes (page 319):

Within the mainstream educational system, students spend endless hours in academic tasks almost to the exclusion of all other forms of social, emotional, moral, artistic, physical, and spiritual learning goals. This type of education leaves students bereft of any overarching sense of why they are learning things, other than perhaps to obtain some lucrative job in the distant future.

He is not the only one to have concerns about the direction the American education system has been heading. An example of the current state of play in the States comes in a blog post on the NY Times site from a philosopher father after encountering issues with his son’s education. He summarises what he has learnt:

In summary, our public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punchline: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths.

He spells out the implications of this rampant moral relativism:

. . . . in the world beyond grade school, where adults must exercise their moral knowledge and reasoning to conduct themselves in the society, the stakes are greater. There, consistency demands that we acknowledge the existence of moral facts. If it’s not true that it’s wrong to murder a cartoonist with whom one disagrees, then how can we be outraged? If there are no truths about what is good or valuable or right, how can we prosecute people for crimes against humanity? If it’s not true that all humans are created equal, then why vote for any political system that doesn’t benefit you over others?

My strong impression is that the UK system, under the influence of Michael Gove and his successors, has moved a long way in this dehumanising direction also. There is ample evidence to justify this view. Confirmation that Medina’s bleak picture applies at least to some extent within the UK can be found, for example, in an article in the Guardian of February this year which quotes recent research:

The survey of 10,000 pupils aged 14 and 15 in secondary schools across the UK found that more than half failed to identify what researchers described as good judgments when responding to a series of moral dilemmas, leading researchers to call for schools to have a more active role in teaching character and morality.

“A good grasp of moral virtues, such as kindness, honesty and courage can help children to flourish as human beings, and can also lead to improvements in the classroom. And that level of understanding doesn’t just happen – it needs to be nurtured and encouraged,” said Prof James Arthur, director of Birmingham’s Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, which conducted the research.

There was also a piece by Layard on the LSE website in January this year:

In a path-breaking analysis using the British Cohort Study, we found some astonishing results. The strongest predictor of a satisfying adult life was the child’s emotional health. Next came social behaviour, and least important was academic achievement. This is exactly the opposite sequence to the priorities of most (but not all) educators and politicians. Indeed the last Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, deliberately reduced towards zero the importance which Ofsted should give to the emotional wellbeing of students.

A recent article on the Greater Good website emphasises how important it is to include a moral component in the curriculum and shows that there is widespread concern about this issue:

Many schools are hopping on the bandwagon to teach “performance character”—qualities such as perseverance, optimism, and creativity— because it has been shown to lead to greater academic success. Fewer, though, are also teaching moral character, which focuses on qualities that enhance ethical behavior, including empathy, social responsibility, and integrity.

The challenge is that performance character by itself is not necessarily good or bad. A person can exhibit great perseverance and creativity, but use it towards bad means—take your pick of corporate scandals to see this in action. To blunt ends-justify-means thinking, schools need to balance achievement-oriented performance character with the ethical orientation of moral character, while also teaching emotional skills.

Case in point: A recent study found that students at a middle school that emphasized moral character demonstrated higher rates of academic integrity than students at two middle schools that taught only performance character. In other words, the students who cultivated their moral backbone were less likely to cheat than the students who developed perseverance.

Researchers also refer to other things such as mutual respect, commitment and education in parenting. The Bahá’í view goes further even than this:

An atmosphere needs to be maintained in which children feel they belong to the community and share in its purpose. They must lovingly but insistently be guided to live up to Bahá’í standards, to study and teach the Cause in ways that are suited to their circumstances.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

The current state of play within our schools suggests that Bahá’ís and others have a crucial role to play in supplementing the deficiencies that are crippling our educational system.

The Needs of Young People

They describe the special needs of a sub-group of young people:

[Those between the ages of, say, 12 to 15] represent a special group with special needs as they are somewhat in between childhood and youth when many changes are occurring within them. Creative attention must be devoted to involving them in programmes of activity that will engage their interests, mould their capacities for teaching and service, and involve them in social interaction with older youth.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

Paul Lample explains that this has led to

[a]n effort to endow youth with the capacity to conquer the word and unravel its meaning both for their own spiritual upliftment, and as a basis for social action. The work with Junior Youth broadened beyond efforts for SED to become a fourth core activity.

(Paul Lample: Revelation & Social Reality page 135)

JY BRA_4762Parents

The role of parents is clearly critical:

. . . parents . . . bear the prime responsibility for the upbringing of their children. We appeal to them to give constant attention to the spiritual education of their children. Some parents appear to think that this is the exclusive responsibility of the community; others believe that in order to preserve the independence of children to investigate truth, the Faith should not be taught to them. Still others feel inadequate to take on such a task. None of this is correct . . . . ..

Independent of the level of their education, parents are in a critical position to shape the spiritual development of their children. They should not ever underestimate their capacity to mould their children’s moral character. Of course, in addition to the efforts made at home, the parents should support children’s classes provided by the community.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

In the end where does all this leave us?

For Bahá’ís the message is clear. In capital letters on page 99 of Paris Talks we find the quotation at the head of this post:


The words immediately above that are:

Let your ambition be the achievement on earth of a Heavenly civilization! I ask for you the supreme blessing, that you may be so filled with the vitality of the Heavenly Spirit that you may be the cause of life to the world.

There’s really nothing else that anyone can add after that and it seems to me that it applies to everyone, Baha’i and non-Baha’i alike, each in his or her own way inspired by the purpose of God in this age which is to make us all act upon the realisation that we are one family — the human family.

The whole of humanity is indeed our business.

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Bahá’í worship, however exalted in its conception, however passionate in fervour, . . . . . cannot afford lasting satisfaction and benefit to the worshipper himself, much less to humanity in general, unless and until translated and transfused into that dynamic and disinterested service to the cause of humanity which it is the supreme privilege of the dependencies of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár to facilitate and promote.

(Shoghi Effendi — 25 October 1929)

From time to time it comes to seem appropriate to republish a much earlier sequence from 2009 on the Bahá’í approach to healing our wounded world. My recent republishing of the sequence on Alexander and Newell’s Living in a Mindful Universe  seemed an appropriate trigger. 

Century of Light quotes ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s description of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár (page 23):

The Mashriqu’l-Adhkár is one of the most vital institutions in the world, and it hath many subsidiary branches. Although it is a House of Worship, it is also connected with a hospital, a drug dispensary, a traveler’s hospice, a school for orphans, and a university for advanced studies…. My hope is that the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár will now be established in America, and that gradually the hospital, the school, the university, the dispensary and the hospice, all functioning according to the most efficient and orderly procedures, will follow.

There is an indissoluble link between a temple and helping humanity. This goes back centuries, for example, in the monastic tradition of Christianity. However, in the Bahá’í Faith, monks (and priests as well for that matter) have no equivalent: the life of the temple depends upon the whole community, not just a small sub-section of it. It also serves the whole surrounding community regardless of whether a person is Bahá’í or not. The Bahá’í concept of a temple is therefore unique. The Universal House of Justice explains this in a recent letter (18 April 2014):

The Mashriqu’l-Adhkár is a unique concept in the annals of religion and symbolizes the teachings of the new Day of God. A collective centre of society to promote cordial affection, the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár stands as a universal place of worship open to all the inhabitants of a locality irrespective of their religious affiliation, background, ethnicity, or gender and a haven for the deepest contemplation on spiritual reality and foundational questions of life, including individual and collective responsibility for the betterment of society. Men and women, children and youth, are held in its embrace as equals. This singular and integral universality is captured in the very structure of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, whose design as a nine-sided edifice conveys a sense of completeness and perfection symbolized by that number.

So, it is not a resource of the Bahá’í community alone, neither as a temple nor in terms of its subsidiaries. They are there for everyone regardless of what (s)he believes or where (s)he comes from.

It needs to be recognised, of course, that the full development of these institutions will require a long period of time (ibid):

In the Bahá’í writings, the term “Mashriqu’l-Adhkár” has variously been used to designate the gathering of the believers for prayers at dawn; a structure where the divine verses are recited; the entire institution of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár and its dependencies; and the central edifice itself, often also referred to as a “Temple” or a “House of Worship”. All these can be regarded as aspects of the gradual implementation of the law set out for humankind by Bahá’u’lláh in His Most Holy Book.

This process will depend upon Bahá’í communities everywhere beginning to lay down the requisite foundations. How is that sense of communal responsibility to be achieved?

It begins with small devotional meetings in our homes.

This destination, laid down in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, is foreshadowed in the tiny seed of the devotional meeting. The Universal House of Justice writes:

The spiritual growth generated by individual devotions is reinforced by loving association among the friends in every locality, by worship as a community and by service to the Faith and to one’s fellow human beings. These communal aspects of the godly life relate to the law of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár which appears in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Although the time has not come for the building of local Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs, the holding of regular meetings for worship open to all and the involvement of Bahá’í communities in projects of humanitarian service are expressions of this element of Bahá’í life and a further step in the implementation of the Law of God.

(Universal House of Justice, 28 December 1999)

Without worship as a community we deprive ourselves of the food for the spirit of our collective endeavours.

. . . . the flourishing of the community, especially at the local level, . . .  involves the practice of collective worship of God. Hence, it is essential to the spiritual life of the community that the friends hold regular devotional meetings …

(Universal House of Justice, Ridván 1996)

Now these devotional meetings are clearly the early seeds of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár:

It befitteth the friends to hold a gatherings, a meeting, where they shall glorify God and fix their hearts upon Him, and read and recite the Holy Writings of the blessed Beauty, may my soul be the ransom of His lovers. The lights of the All-Glorious Realm, the rays of the Supreme Horizon, will be cast upon such bright assemblages, for these are none other than the Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs, the Dawning-Points of God’s Remembrance, which must, at the direction of the Most Exalted Pen, be established in every hamlet and city . . .

(Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pages 93-95)

These devotional meetings are not enough in themselves. They need to be aligned with action. The Universal House of Justice quotes the passage at the top of this post from Shoghi Effendi in full at this point (ibid.):

Divorced from the social, humanitarian, educational and scientific pursuits centring around the Dependencies of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, Bahá’í worship, however exalted in its conception, however passionate in fervour, can never hope to achieve beyond the meagre and often transitory results produced by the contemplations of the ascetic or the communion of the passive worshiper. It cannot afford lasting satisfaction and benefit to the worshiper himself, much less to humanity in general, unless and until translated and transfused into that dynamic and disinterested service to the cause of humanity which it is the supreme privilege of the Dependencies of the Mashriqu’l- Adhkár to facilitate and promote.

Spiritual Renewal

Spiritual Renewal

Devotional Meetings and Empowerment

Such a high level engagement, of course, does not happen automatically. It starts small and builds up slowly over a period of time.

In various parts of the world, special endeavors to increase the number of devotional meetings often begin with encouraging believers inspired by their institute course on spiritual life to undertake such meetings on their own.

(Building Momentum: page 8)

These meetings are often small scale experiments in ordinary homes and take many different forms.  It is vital though that they happen in some form  because the power of this embryonic institution of the Faith is ultimately immense and indispensable:

When the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár is accomplished, when the lights are emanating therefrom, the righteous ones are presenting themselves therein, the prayers are performed with supplication towards the mysterious Kingdom, the voice of glorification is raised to the Lord, the Supreme, then the believers shall rejoice, the hearts shall be dilated and overflow with the love of the All-living and Self-existent God.  The people shall hasten to worship in that heavenly Temple, the fragrances of God will be elevated, the divine teachings will be established in the hearts like the establishment of the Spirit in mankind; the people will then stand firm in the Cause of your Lord, the Merciful.  Praise and greetings be upon you.

(Bahá’í World Faith, page 415)

The yearning for a connection to a higher spiritual reality is far more widespread than many of us imagine: it cannot be responded to by accident. We must choose to act and act persistently.

Responding to the inmost longings of every heart to commune with its Maker, [we] carry out acts of collective worship in diverse settings, uniting with others in prayer, awakening spiritual susceptibilities, and shaping a pattern of life distinguished for its devotional character.

(Universal House of Justice: Ridván Message 2008)

The devotional meeting is an essential component, prerequisite even, for the process of civilisation building upon which we are embarked. It is conducive to the unity which we have seen is essential if we are to be effective:

In brief, the original purpose of temples and houses of worship is simply that of unity – places of meeting where various peoples, different races and souls of every capacity may come together in order that love and agreement should be manifest between them.  That is why Bahá’u’lláh has commanded that a place of worship be built for all the religionists of the world; that all religions, races and sects may come together within its universal shelter; that the proclamation of the oneness of mankind shall go forth from its open courts of holiness – the announcement that humanity is the servant of God and that all are submerged in the ocean of His mercy.

(Promulgation of Universal Peace, pages 65-66)

© Bahá’í World Centre

© Bahá’í World Centre

How should Devotional Meetings be Conducted?

The Guardian’s statements in Bahá’í Administration will give us a sense of how we should be conducting our devotional meetings, though still only embryonic Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs:

It should be borne in mind that the central Edifice of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, round which in the fulness of time shall cluster such institutions of social service as shall afford relief to the suffering, sustenance to the poor, shelter to the wayfarer, solace to the bereaved, and education to the ignorant, should be regarded apart from these Dependencies, as a House solely designed and entirely dedicated to the worship of God in accordance with the few yet definitely prescribed principles established by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas.  . . . .

(Bahá’í Administration, pages 184-185)

There is much in the Writings: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá indicates that they are in effect the Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs of the districts in which they take place if held in the right spirit.

55….  These spiritual gatherings must be held with the utmost purity and consecration, so that from the site itself, and its earth and the air about it, one will inhale the fragrant breathings of the Holy Spirit.

(Selections  from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

It will make our houses heavenly:

57.  We hear that thou hast in mind to embellish thy house from time to time with a meeting of Bahá’ís, where some among them will engage in glorifying the All-Glorious Lord…  Know that shouldst thou bring this about, that house of earth will become a house of heaven, and that fabric of stone a congress of the spirit.

(Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

And they should be open to all, as we know:

Let the friends not hesitate to welcome to their observances, even to those of a devotional character, the non-Bahá’í public, many of whom may well be attracted by the prayers and expressions of gratitude of the believers, no less than by the exalted tone of passages from Bahá’í Writings.

(Universal House of Justice, 25 June 1967)

The Research Department at the World Centre summarises the themes in the many quotations on the subject of devotional meetings and the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár as follows, though at this stage of our development we should not allow our incomplete understanding of them to stifle creativity and the spirit of experimentation that characterises much of what we do at the moment:

A number of themes emerge from perusal of the extracts contained therein. For example:

* Care should be taken to avoid developing rigid practices and rituals (extracts 1 and 6).

* Bahá’ís are encouraged to use the revealed prayers of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb as well as those of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. It is permissible to have prayers and readings from the Sacred Scriptures of other religions (extracts 2 and 7).

* The form of programme would appear to depend in part on the setting, the occasion, and the purposes of the gathering (extracts 6 and 7).

* The practice of collective worship is one important ingredient in the flourishing of community life. It also reinforces individual spiritual development (extracts 3, 4, and 5).

In the end we cannot expect ourselves or our communities to rise to the heights of service necessary to transform society without such acts of collective worship. After all, would we  expect to vacuum-clean the house without plugging the hoover into the mains?

. . . . . the flourishing of the community, especially at the local level, . . . . .  involves the practice of collective worship of God. Hence, it is essential to the spiritual life of the community that the friends hold regular devotional meetings in local Bahá’í centres, where available, or elsewhere, including the homes of believers.

(Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1996)

The next and last post in this series will look at the spiritual education of children. It comes last not because it is the least important, but in the hope that it may prove to be the longest remembered.

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Given the theme of my post on Monday, this seemed a good sequence to republish.

If One Common Faith helps the Bahá’í community understand the current context of the vision we are seeking to implement (see previous post), Century of Light helps us see how our understanding of this vision developed by slow degrees.

Obstacles to Understanding

Secularisation partly explains the difficulty humanity as a whole has in grasping a transcendent vision of global transformation: the failure of religion makes a contribution too.

. . . the secularization of society’s upper levels seemed to go hand in hand with a pervasive religious obscurantism among the general population.

(Century of Light: Sec I, page 6)

We also all lack precedents to aid our understanding:

Our century, with all its upheavals and its grandiloquent claims to create a new order, has no comparable example of the systematic application of the powers of a single Mind to the building of a distinctive and successful community that saw its ultimate sphere of work as the globe itself.

(Century of Light: page 10)

British Museum: London

British Museum: London

People might, for example, claim that Marx had developed what seemed to be a global vision but it is not in fact comparable. It was a muddled reductionist vision. It was reductionist in the way that it relegated ideas to the back seat and promoted material conditions to the driving seat of history. It was muddled because, at the same time, it used exhortation to enlist the persuadable to throw their weight behind the idea of a supposedly impersonal dialectic of change. Also all the attempts to implement the vision have so far been catastrophically destructive, involving Chekhov‘s pet hates of ‘violence and lies‘ in abundance. Not only that but Marx had the benefit of one of the best libraries in the world – the British Museum’s reading room – and still failed to achieve the breadth, depth, complexity, compassion and ultimate practical efficacy of  the vision expounded by Bahá’u’lláh in prison and from exile.

An Unfolding Understanding

The Guardian’s Resting Place

Even within the Bahá’í community understanding of the vision evolved over a period of  time. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in his role as expounder of the words of Bahá’u’lláh, emphasised the role of the recognition of the oneness of the human race (Century of Light: page 23). Later, Shoghi Effendi, who was appointed in his turn as interpreter of the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and died in London in 1957, drew out the implications:

The principle of the Oneness of Mankind – the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve – is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. . . . . . It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not experienced…. It calls for no less than the reconstruction and the demilitarization of the whole civilized world – a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life, its political machinery, its spiritual aspiration, its trade and finance, its script and language, and yet infinite in the diversity of the national characteristics of its federated units.

(World Order of Bahá’u’lláh: pages 42-43. Quoted in Century of Light: page 50)

To one degree or another, most Bahá’ís no doubt appreciated that the Assemblies they were being called on to form had a significance far beyond the mere management of practical affairs with which they were charged (op. cit: Page 54). Century of Light again quoted Shoghi Effendi:

. . . . they were integral parts of an Administrative Order that will, in time, “assert its claim and demonstrate its capacity to be regarded not only as the nucleus but the very pattern of the New World Order destined to embrace in the fullness of time the whole of mankind”.

(Century of Light: Page 55)

A word of explanation is perhaps needed here. The Bahá’í Faith has an administrative system that involves electing local and national assemblies on an annual basis. This is done without electioneering: the Bahá’í voter in a secret ballot votes for anyone within the community, local or national as appropriate, who seems to him or her to have the necessary qualities of character and experience to execute the role of Assembly member conscientiously and well. Processes such as consultation (see the earlier post on this subject) are vital decision making tools of these institutions. The pattern can be studied and borrowed from by all, whether Bahá’í or not, and in this way the future shape of the world can be influenced by this pattern.

‘The Bahá’í community,’ it goes on to explain, ‘now embarked [on a stage of development] in which the Administrative Order would be erected throughout the planet, its institutions established and the “society building” powers inherent in it fully revealed’ (Century of Light: Pages 55-56). 

It continues with the words of the Guardian  (Page 68):

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.

Moving Towards Empowerment

Century of Light speaks of the role of planning not as though ‘the Bahá’í community has assumed the responsibility of “designing” a future for itself’, but as striving ‘to align the work of the Cause with the Divinely impelled process they see steadily unfolding in the world.’ This is a purpose, of course, which can influence all peoples of good will, whether Bahá’í or not. Their duty is to align their efforts with the spirit of the age in their way just as Bahá’ís do in this particular fashion. By these combined efforts the world will change. However:

The challenge to the Administrative Order is to ensure that, as Providence allows, Bahá’í efforts are in harmony with this Greater Plan of God, because it is in doing so that the potentialities implanted in the Cause by Bahá’u’lláh bear their fruit.

(Century of Light: Page 69)

The Greater Plan of God, the spirit of the age seen as the organising principle of unity in diversity, requires the efforts of the whole of humanity. As a Bahá’í community we have to make sure that we provide a kind of catalyst by means of what we do within our administrative system and in collaboration with all people’s good will, the Lesser Plan of God.

Century of Light continues:

. . . . . 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.”

(Century of Light: Page 97)

By 1996, it had become possible, as the Faith grew, to see all of the distinct strands of this complex enterprise as integral parts of one coherent whole (Century of Light: page 108). There were still challenges though.

For the most part, however, these [new Bahá’í] friends were essentially recipients of teaching programmes conducted by teachers and pioneers from outside. 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.

(Century of Light: pages 108-109)

This highlighted a need, the meeting of which led to the creation of the Training Institute process (page 109) that empowered people to take initiatives and persist in action even under difficult circumstances:

. . . beginning in the 1970s in Colombia, where a systematic and sustained programme of education in the Writings was devised and soon adopted in neighbouring countries. Influenced by the Colombian community’s parallel efforts in the field of social and economic development, the breakthrough was all the more impressive in the fact that it was achieved against a background of violence and lawlessness that was deranging the life of the surrounding society.

The Colombian achievement has proved a source of great inspiration and example to Bahá’í communities elsewhere in the world.

The process of transformation the Cause has set in motion advances by inducing a fundamental change of consciousness, and the challenge it poses for all those of us who would serve it is to free ourselves from attachment to inherited assumptions and preferences that are irreconcilable with the Will of God for humanity’s coming of age (page 136).

Seat of the Universal House of Justice © Bahá’í World Centre

Century of Light towards the end (pages 139-140) concludes:

. . . . With the successful establishment in 1963 of the Universal House of Justice, the Bahá’ís of the world set out on the first stage of a mission of long duration: the spiritual empowerment of the whole body of humankind as the protagonists of their own advancement.

We must not underestimate the significance of this achievement:

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 – nothing indeed envisioned by any group of people – that in any way resembles this achievement.

(Century of Light: page 92)

See links below to the subsequent five posts which examine in more detail some of the specific components of this process of empowerment.

Related Articles

Humanity is our Business (3/5): Capacity Building (a)

Humanity is our Business (3/5): Capacity Building (b)

Humanity is our Business (4/5): Devotional Meetings

Humanity is our Business (5/5): (a) The Plight of Children

Humanity is our Business (5/5): (b) What can we do for our children?

Read Full Post »

Given the theme of my post on Monday, this seemed a good sequence to republish.

Who Do You Think You Are?

We were half way through a new series of the popular BBC show, Who Do You Think You Are, which sees celebrities exploring the secrets of their family trees, reacting to their unpredictable discoveries with a combination of tears and elation. It was fascinating viewing and its popularity tells us a lot about where we look when we are seeking clues to our identity.

Our search could take another direction altogether. Instead of looking to the past we could look towards the future. Instead of seeing ourselves shaped by ancestral experiences and our genetic heritage, and behaving accordingly, we could define our identities in terms of the purpose we see our lives having. What are we here for? What do we want to achieve?

And these ambitions need not be constrained by relatively short-term purely personal purposes. In this sequence of posts I want to explore the possibility that we could create a meaningful identity for ourselves around the notion that we are here to contribute to the shaping of the future of our society.

The Bahá’í Perspective

This is not just for Bahá’ís. While it is true that we see a role for the Bahá’í Community in the betterment of the world, it is also true that the vast majority of the world’s population has to become involved. This entails a combination of consciousness-raising and empowerment. How, exactly, are we going to achieve that?

Realization 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.

(Century of Light: page 94)

In 1985 our international governing body issued a statement to the leaders and the peoples of the world concerning world peace, which they see as something for all of us to work for. They wrote:

Whether peace is to be reached only after unimaginable horrors precipitated by humanity’s stubborn clinging to old patterns of behaviour, or is to be embraced now by an act of consultative will, is the choice before all who inhabit the earth.


They speak of the change of consciousness that is needed if this is to come about:

Acceptance of the oneness of mankind is the first fundamental prerequisite for reorganization and administration of the world as one country, the home of humankind. Universal acceptance of this spiritual principle is essential to any successful attempt to establish world peace. It should therefore be universally proclaimed, taught in schools, and constantly asserted in every nation as preparation for the organic change in the structure of society which it implies.

(Promise of World Peace: Section III)

Clearly this will take time and dedicated effort. Something else is also necessary:

Some form of a world super-state must needs be evolved, in whose favour all the nations of the world will have willingly ceded every claim to make war, certain rights to impose taxation and all rights to maintain armaments, except for purposes of maintaining internal order within their respective dominions. Such a state will have to include within its orbit an International Executive adequate to enforce supreme and unchallengeable authority on every recalcitrant member of the commonwealth; a World Parliament whose members shall be elected by the people in their respective countries and whose election shall be confirmed by their respective governments; and a Supreme Tribunal whose judgement will have a binding effect even in such cases where the parties concerned did not voluntarily agree to submit their case to its consideration.


They urge us all to lend our weight to this mighty and essential project:

Let men and women, youth and children everywhere recognize the eternal merit of this imperative action for all peoples and lift up their voices in willing assent. Indeed, let it be this generation that inaugurates this glorious stage in the evolution of social life on the planet.


Even that though will not be enough. Our daily lives need to be imbued with this vision of civilisation-building.

Responsibility for the Welfare of the Entire Human Family

The Universal House of Justice has already unpacked very clearly what this must mean to us (see my earlier post on Working for a Divine Arkitect). When the buildings on Mount Carmel were complete, the following words were read at the opening ceremony:

. . . 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 revolutionising principle will increasingly empower individuals and Bahá’í institutions alike in awakening others to . . . the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world.

(Universal House of Justice: 24 May 2001 in Turning Point page 164)

For ‘individuals’ I think it’s fair to read ‘everyone’ whether Bahá’í or not.

The Bahá’ís have a particular role to play:

The rest of humanity has every right to expect that a body of people genuinely committed to the vision of unity embodied in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh will be an increasingly vigorous contributor to programmes of social betterment that depend for their success precisely on the force of unity. Responding to the expectation will require the Bahá’í community to grow at an ever-accelerating pace, greatly multiplying the human and material resources invested in its work and diversifying still further the range of talents that equip it to be a useful partner with like-minded organizations.

(One Common Faith: page 50)


It goes on to unpack the implications of this:

If Bahá’ís are to fulfil Bahá’u’lláh’s mandate, however, it is obviously vital that they come to appreciate that the parallel efforts of promoting the betterment of society and of teaching the Bahá’í Faith are not activities competing for attention. Rather, are they reciprocal features of one coherent global programme.

(One Common Faith: pages 51-52)

So, it is important to recognise that these aims are not incompatible but reciprocally reinforcing. The next post will attempt to clarify how the vision of the Bahá’í community has developed over the years in terms of how to give these insights practical expression in the alienated complexities of the modern world. Subsequent posts (see list below) looked at three aspects of the work Bahá’ís do that are responses to the call of this vision of civilisation-building.

Related Articles

Humanity is our Business (3/5): Capacity Building (a)

Humanity is our Business (3/5): Capacity Building (b)

Humanity is our Business (4/5): Devotional Meetings

Humanity is our Business (5/5): (a) The Plight of Children

Humanity is our Business (5/5): (b) What can we do for our children?

Read Full Post »

Universal Mind


The Bahá’í Writings refer to the ‘universal mind’ as when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá responds to a woman’s letter advising her ‘to forget this world of possession, become wholly heavenly, become embodied spirit and attain to universal mind. This arena is vast and unlimited . . . .’ Jung uses the term ‘collective unconscious’ and Yeats refers to the Anima Mundi.

Both Mishlove, my bridging text, and Alexander and Newell, my main focus, discuss what seems to be essentially the same concept at some length. In fact, Mishlove uses exactly the same expression as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:[1]

This higher law concerns consciousness, mind, or spirit in the universe – independent of the brain. Different cultures… all share a common thread, ‘the phenomenal worlds [including the brain] owe their existence to universal mind.’

He goes on to clarify that this idea is a core part of metaphysical idealism, something we’ll be coming back to soon.

The one thing any of us can be sure of is ‘I think, therefore I am.’ As Mishlove puts it:[2]

We each have direct knowledge of mind. Nothing is more immediate and intimate. We lack direct access to anything else but mind. . . . Max Planck . . . famously said: ‘I regard consciousness as a fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. Everything we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.

In his search for what he regards is the most economical explanation of reality, satisfying the demands of Occam’s razor, he explains:

.  . . Idealism, the position the universe is essentially mindlike, satisfies the requirement in the metaphysical domain.

And goes on to conclude[3] ‘Metaphysical idealism is the most logically consistent position as it eliminates the problems of both materialism and dualism. . . .’ quoting Kastrup as defining metaphysical idealism to mean ‘reality is mindlike.’

Eben Alexander

There are other routes to the same conclusion, in the case of Alexander an experiential rather than purely philosophical one. He feels his NDE was an incontrovertible disproof of the sceptical dogma that there is no spiritual dimension to reality:[4]

What I’ve experienced – and what has been experienced by millions of other people who have had NDEs and other spiritually transformative experiences – is the black swan we didn’t know to look for.

He very much feels it points towards the conscious nature of the reality that surrounds us (my emphasis):[5]

During my coma journey, I experienced this same sense of oneness with the universe as a completely unified self-awareness of all that is – a truly mindful universe. Edgar’s intuition that science and spirituality greatly strengthen each other, that their natural synthesis is an inevitable aspect of human history, is one that I share deeply.

He evokes physics as doing the same:[6]

The physics community has only become more befuddled by recent experimental results suggesting that there is no objective external reality and that consciousness (the observer) is at the very core of all emergent reality.

What we experience is captured by the Vedic word maya, in his view,[7] which is not suggesting the world is ‘not real’ but what we experience of it is rather an ‘illusion’ or as I tend to express it, a ‘simulation’. It’s not what it seems. Reality therefore, for him,[8] is best explained by seeing it in the way Idealism does as ‘fundamentally a form of thought in which the human mind participates.’ Which brings him back to the physics again in order to emphasise our interconnectedness, also one of my mantra:[9]

In metaphysical idealism, as also in quantum physics, all of the universe is deeply interconnected: any separation of a part from the whole in our thinking leads to distortion and confusion.

It should be no surprise, then, to find where this now takes him, and me along with him:[10] ‘This view considers our conscious awareness to originate in the Collective Mind, which comprises all sentient consciousness throughout the universe.’ He goes even further to speculate that this might be part of the reason we have a universe at all:[11] the ‘grander evolution of consciousness is the reason the entire universe exists.’

Importance of the Heart to our Connectedness

Living in a Mindful UniverseReaders of this blog will be aware of just how important the idea of the heart is to my understanding of my own nature. On the one hand I wrestled after starting to tread the Bahá’í path, with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s explanation of the nature of the mind, but also on the other with Bahá’u’lláh’s use of the expressionunderstanding heart’, which He stressed in many places was the key to grasping what He was trying to convey in His Writings.

So, no one should be surprised that I resonated strongly when Alexander quotes Thomas Merton[12] as describing ‘centring prayer’ as a ‘return to the heart, finding one’s deepest centre, awakening the profound depths of our being.’ At the same time Alexander emphasises the crucial importance of connectedness:[13]

We are spiritual beings living in a spiritual universe. Fundamentally, this spirituality means we are all interconnected through the Collective Mind.

Moreover, the heart is central to a fuller realisation of this truth:[14]

Maintaining awareness of the heart and an appreciative state of mind while listening to another person often results in improved clarity and increased awareness of more nonverbal aspects of what is being communicated.

Reducing the Filter

Interestingly, and this was a new insight for me, Alexander links such heightened sensitivity paradoxically to a reduction in brain activity. For starters he writes:[15]

Like the flow state, lessening the information-processing of the brain might allow the filtering function to diminish, allowing me more complete contact with the Collective Mind across the veil and setting my awareness free.


When one accepts that the physical brain does not create mind but serves to allow in universal consciousness, “going within” is actually the means of “going out” to know more of the universe.

This resonates strongly for me with so many quotations from mystical perspectives. There are these lines from a poem of Ali, the Successor to Muhammad: ‘How dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form/When within thee the universe is folded?’ Bahá’u’lláh writes:[17] ‘Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.’

Other Key Ideas

More resonances were to follow when Alexander closes in on ideas echoing disidentification and reflection, something I have explored many times on this blog:[18]

Once . . . . you realise there is a part of you that is separate from your thoughts – that is the key. It does not analyse, it’s simply observes. This is the first means to finding that larger part of you that exists beyond the physical world

The related idea of interconnectedness follows close on its heels:[19]

Rather than being separate individuals competing for resources, driven by the concerns of the ego, we are part of a larger whole, connected to each other in ways that bring meaning and purpose to our lives. . . .Our observed reality exists as the stage setting on which we learn ongoing lessons.

The idea of observed reality as a classroom maps onto the concept of the world as a womb of the soul in which we prepare ourselves for entry into next world beyond death.

He nails this exactly when he writes: ‘A useful approach is to consider our collective earthly existence as time spent in ’soul school.’

I laughed out loud when he torpedoed a key tenet of materialism in the plainest language possible:[20]  ‘No one gets out of here dead – there is ultimately no escape from the continuum of conscious awareness.’

Ultimately, he argues:[21]

. . . conscious awareness is the very same force at the core of all existence. Such oneness and dissolution of the sense of self, and complete identity with all of life and the source of all that is, is the pathway toward truth.

Love is the ground of being:[22]

Based on thousands of reported cases of those who have glimpsed more fully the workings of reality through NDEs and other mystical experiences, that informational substrate underlying our universe appears to be made of profound unconditional love.

We are all able to develop the capacity to connect, if we are prepared to make the effort:[23]

Truly, we all have the capacity to explore the vast well of consciousness that lies within and through us, and within and through the network of souls within which we are in a hidden but eternal pattern of connection.

Collective Responsibility

It is a journey we need to undertake together:[24]

We are all part of a vast and creative consciousness, and the evolution of all of consciousness throughout the cosmos is nothing more than the individual journey of sentient beings in coming to understand their own role in this co-creative endeavour.

We are, he feels, at a crucial tipping point:[25]

While my collective understanding is still evolving, I believe we are on the verge of the greatest revolution in human thought in all of recorded history, a true synthesis of science and spirituality.

From a Bahá’í point of view, this will not be a smooth and bland transition, as current events in the world powerfully illustrate. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, wrote:[26]

A tempest, unprecedented in its violence, unpredictable in its course, catastrophic in its immediate effects, unimaginably glorious in its ultimate consequences, is at present sweeping the face of the earth. Its driving power is remorselessly gaining in range and momentum. Its cleansing force, however much undetected, is increasing with every passing day. Humanity, gripped in the clutches of its devastating power, is smitten by the evidences of its resistless fury. It can neither perceive its origin, nor probe its significance, nor discern its outcome. Bewildered, agonized and helpless, it watches this great and mighty wind of God invading the remotest and fairest regions of the earth, rocking its foundations, deranging its equilibrium, sundering its nations, disrupting the homes of its peoples, wasting its cities, driving into exile its kings, pulling down its bulwarks, uprooting its institutions, dimming its light, and harrowing up the souls of its inhabitants.

He compares this stage in the development of our civilisation to adolescence:[27]

The long ages of infancy and childhood, through which the human race had to pass, have receded into the background. Humanity is now experiencing the commotions invariably associated with the most turbulent stage of its evolution, the stage of adolescence, when the impetuosity of youth and its vehemence reach their climax, and must gradually be superseded by the calmness, the wisdom, and the maturity that characterize the stage of manhood.

A Motivating Force

To meet these challenges Matthieu Ricard argues that we must move[28] from ‘community engagement to global responsibility.’ To do this it is necessary ‘to realise that all things are interdependent, and to assimilate that world view in such a way that it influences our every action.’ He sees altruism as the key to this transition.

Jeremy Rifkin, as I quoted in the earlier sequence, acknowledges a possible deficit in the motivating forces of empathy that he is attempting to describe. He is aware of a potential void in the credibility of his position but has to locate motivating awe elsewhere than in the transcendent he refuses to acknowledge so chooses our connection nature and the planet instead:[29]

Empathic consciousness starts with awe. When we empathise with another, we are bearing witness to the strange incredible life force that is in us and that connects us with all other living beings. Empathy is, after all, the feeling of deep reverence we have for the nebulous term we call existence.

The Universal House of Justice brings in the transcendent when it states:[30]

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 essential motivating components potentially provided by the spiritual insights described by Alexander and Newell, powerful as they undoubtedly are, are, even so, simply not enough to move us past this tipping constructively. For this revolution to yield its most important fruits one more crucial thing needs to be added into the mix.

More on that next time.


[1]. Beyond the Brain:
the Survival of Human Consciousness after Permanent Bodily Death – page 14.

[2]. Op. cit. – page 82.

[3]. Op. cit. – page 83.

[4]. Living in a Mindful Universe – page 84.

[5]. Op. cit. – page 110.

[6]. Op. cit. – page 135.

[7]. Op. cit. – page 160.

[8]. Op. cit. – page 178.

[9]. Op. cit. – page 181.

[10]. Op. cit. – page 186.

[11]. Op. cit. – page 207.

[12]. Op. cit. – page 260.

[13]. Op. cit. – page 289.

[14]. Op. cit. – page 320.

[15]. Op. cit. – page 333.

[16]. Op. cit. – page 426.

[17]. Arabic Hidden Words – 13.

[18]. Living in a Mindful Universe – pages 437-38.

[19]. Op. cit. – page 477.

[20]. Op. cit. – page 540.

[21]. Op. cit. – page 599.

[22]. Op. cit. – page 598.

[23]. Op. cit. – page 632.

[24]. Op. cit. – page 633.

[25]. Op. cit. – page 641.

[26]. Shoghi Effendi The Promised Day is Come (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1996) – page 1. 
Quoted by the Universal House of Justice in Century of Light – page 2.

[27]. Shoghi Effendi The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, page 202. Quoted by the Universal House of Justice in Century of Light 
pages 50-51.

[28]. Altruism – page 682.

[29]. The Empathic Civilisation – page 170.

[30]. Century of Light – page 138.

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