Friday, December 30, 2011

Spiritual Qualities

The Bahá’í community has a program for the effective transformation of the individuals and the creation of a new world civilization. This program can be clearly distinguished from ideas, suggestions, proposals, principles, and sentiments held by a large and disparate group of people, all of whom would want to contribute to the betterment of the world. To better appreciate the features of this program we observe that since 1996 the Bahá’í community is engaged in creating, step by step, the elements of this program. To effectively carry out any program, it requires a number of people who are able and willing to implement its provisions. To systematically train a large number and develop in them the knowledge, the spiritual insight, and the skills to carry out the various activities, some 250 training institutes were created throughout the world in 1996. These institutes are organizational structures dedicated to providing formal educational programs that systematically raise the capacity of its participants.

We have studied three spiritual prerequisites, namely rectitude of conduct, a chaste and holy life, and elimination of all forms of prejudice. These spiritual qualities may have been the object of numerous sermons throughout the ages and in various settings. So what is the source of our optimism? The answer lies in the fact that our approach is fundamentally different from expressions of pious hope. It involves a practical and systematic method that raises capacity for action, then accompanies the participants to engage in action. And at each stage these spiritual qualities are studied, then practiced, and their implications and applications in realistic circumstances explored. Rectitude of conduct is woven in the study of the Books, woven in the practices, and woven in reflections on action. It becomes impossible for a person to ignore it as we move from cycle to cycle.

And there are two complimentary principles before us: be absolutely strict on the principles, and completely understanding of the efforts of the individuals. We “recognize the importance of two fundamental, interlocking precepts:  On the one hand, the high standard of conduct inculcated by Baha'u'llah's Revelation can admit no compromise; it can, in no wise, be lowered, and all must fix their gaze on its lofty heights.  On the other, it must be acknowledged that, as human beings, we are far from perfect; what is expected of everyone is sincere daily effort.  Self-righteousness is to be eschewed.”

In the study of this 35th paragraph of the letter of 28 December 2010 of the Universal House of Justice, the following questions come to mind:

  1. How does the educational process associated with the training institute help to foster the spiritual conditions that must distinguish the life of the Bahá’í community?
  2. How does the training institute promote the spirit of unity that must animate the friends?
  3. How does the training institute engender the ties of love that must bind the collaborators?
  4. How does the training institute secure firmness in the Covenant that must sustain the participants?
  5. How does the training institute increase reliance and trust the learners must place on the power of divine assistance?

Abdu’l-Baha wrote: “…You should strive day and night so that endowed with heavenly strength, inspired with brilliant motives and aided by His celestial power and heavenly grace and confirmation, you may become the ornaments of the world of humanity, and preeminent among those who are initiated into true learning and the love of God. You must be distinguished amidst men by your sanctity and detachment, loftiness of purpose, magnanimity, determination, noble mindedness, tenacity, the elevation of your aims and your spiritual qualities”. [Bahá’í Prayers and Tablets for the Young, p. 30]

Sunday, December 25, 2011

On Racial Prejudice

The third spiritual prerequisite for the success of all Bahá’í undertakings is the elimination of all forms of prejudice. There are of course many forms of prejudice. These include race, class, ethnicity, gender, national origin, or religious belief. And they can be subtle or overt. But in all cases it represents an intolerable injustice. It denies opportunities for progress to its victims, and it corrupts and retards the spiritual progress of its perpetrators.

Of all the various forms of prejudice, racial prejudice has had a particularly significant history in United States. It was in reaction to this racial prejudice that the Master, Abdu’l-Baha, guided the Bahá’í community to work towards it eradication, to hold integrated interracial meetings, and he encouraged interracial marriages. In the Bahá’í community today there is a particularly significant number of marriages among the Americans of Iranian descent and those of African American heritage.

Commenting on the contributions of the African Americans, the Universal House of Justice wrote on 3rd of June 2007 “that every people, through its inherent potentialities and particular range of experience, will make its own distinct contribution to the creation of a new civilization. To the extent that African-Americans who embrace the new Revelation arise to do their part by adhering to the Teachings will the gifts which are uniquely theirs be realized in the splendors of the Golden Age. The “pupil of the eye”, Bahá’u’lláh’s metaphoric reference to Black people, will no doubt acquire clear meaning as they conscientiously strive over time to fulfill the divine purpose for which the Blessed Beauty came. There can be no doubt that Americans of African descent can find in themselves the capacity, so well developed as a result of their long encounter with injustice, to recognize and respond to the vision of love and justice brought by the Promised One of all ages. Imbued with that vision, past and present sufferings are transformed into measures of patience, wisdom and compassion—qualities so essential to the effort to moderate the discordant ways of a confused world and aid the healing of its spiritual ills. What better than the transformed character of a bruised people to smooth the course, to offer perspectives for new beginnings toward world order!”  

Eradicating racism requires concerted effort by all people, of any color. It is in this spirit that Abdu’l-Baha, during His visit with a group of African Americans in Washington DC in 1912, advised them to recognize with gratitude the efforts of all those who fought for the emancipation of the slaves.

But those were the happenings of yesterday, and we are now living in a new Day. Centuries have elapsed, and… the long promised springtime has indeed come… for with the vision of the future unveiled by His Word all things become new and memories of a horrific past fade in the brilliance of the new Light. This vision assumes a special luminosity when considered in the sense of Bahá’u’lláh’s characterization of the first Ridván, the time of His great announcement in Baghdad, as the Day whereon “all created things were immersed in the sea of purification”, whereon “the breezes of forgiveness were wafted over the entire creation”. How clearly, then, He created a new beginning, separating the past from the present and beckoning the entire human race to the path leading towards realization of the ultimate and most glorious purpose for which it was created.”

“The summons of Bahá’u’lláh to so outright a departure from the past moves us away from ancient models of activity… For Bahá’u’lláh, in vowing to create a new race, has provided the instruments by which the processes of the social transformation of those composing it are to be guided. He has given us the prescription for a new World Order, declaring that “mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System—the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.” As His followers strive to raise up this System, which comprises the institutions of His administration at the local, national and global levels, the spiritual and practical powers of its world-shaping capacity will gradually increase. But we need dedicated souls in great numbers to accomplish what has to be done, and it is for this reason that the House of Justice has set forth a Five Year Plan that calls upon us all to make efforts to advance the process of entry by troops.”

Today we are “inspired by a thought to stimulate African-Americans to respond to the urgent call to action of the Divine Plan and so overcome the crippling effects of a long history of oppression… Indeed, the fulfillment of their highest hopes for the advancement of the race depends on the extent to which they maintain their dedication to the Five Year Plan and succeeding enterprises that the House of Justice will devise in a continuing effort to accomplish the Master’s scheme for world redemption… Such consecrated endeavor is the only way by which they can arrive at the furthermost goal of the common destiny of the entire human race: the Kingdom of God on earth.”

Today the Bahá’í community is engaged in developing communities in receptive neighborhoods. In such circumstances people of all races work alongside each other by studying and acting, and by walking shoulder to shoulder in a common path of service. What guides this action are these words of Universal House of Justice, written in April 2008: “Sustaining growth in cluster after cluster will depend on the qualities that distinguish your service to the peoples of the world.  So free must be  your thoughts and actions of any trace of prejudice--racial, religious, economic, national, tribal, class, or cultural--that even the stranger sees in you loving friends.  So high must be your standard of excellence and so pure and chaste your lives that the moral influence you exert penetrates the consciousness of the wider community.  Only if you demonstrate the rectitude of conduct to which the writings of the Faith call every soul will you be able to struggle against the myriad forms of corruption, overt and subtle, eating at the vitals of society.  Only if you perceive honour and nobility in every human being--this independent of wealth or poverty--will you be able to champion the cause of justice.  And to the extent that administrative processes of your institutions are governed by the principles of Baha'i consultation will the great masses of humanity be able to take refuge in the Baha'i community.”

As we study this 34th paragraph of the letter of 28 December 2010, the following questions are suggested:

  1. What has “bitten into the fibre, and attacked the whole social structure of American society”?
  2.  What “should be regarded as constituting the most vital and challenging issue confronting” our communities?
  3.  What sort of prejudices “continue to hold a strong grip on humanity”?
  4.  What is the difference between “refuting the falsehoods that give rise to prejudice” at the “level of public discourse” and prejudice permeating “the structures of society”?
  5.  How do the methods and instruments of the Plan “disable every instrument devised by humanity over the long period of its childhood for one group to oppress another”?