Monday, July 30, 2012

Spiritual Empowerment

One of the most beautiful aspects of the Baha'i faith is that it provides us, both those who are members of the Faith and those who are not, with many avenues of service. We have a twofold moral purpose in our lives. The first is to improve our own character. Without such a transformation, and that on a continual basis, none of our other activities will bear much fruit. The best way to improve our own character is to spend our time in service to others. The second moral imperative is to contribute to the transformation of the society. By such a transformation we do not mean some minor adjustment to the current structures of the society. What we mean is a thorough and fundamental re-making of social structures and relationships. We also mean complete and wholesale change in the structures that generate, disseminate, and apply knowledge. Additionally we would want to redefine conceptions of power. Now the best way to do all of this is also to personally spend our time in service to others.

Now by service I do not only mean to help others as needed in terms of material or social needs of individuals. The reality of man is not limited to his material condition. Abdu'l-Baha has said that the reality of man is his thoughts. Therefore the greatest service to others can be in the form of helping them think at a higher level. To free our thoughts from oppression is the greatest freedom. To free our thoughts from unwanted influences of the popular media is the greatest freedom. In this category there are the mass media, its pervasive influence on social media, and to a some extent the artistic expressions of ideas in various media.

Today like most Saturdays I spent a few hours in a neighborhood where we meet with a group of junior youth, ages 12 to 14. We first went around to visit several homes in this complex of houses to make sure that we are all present and together. Then we sat outside on a bench attached to a table under a tree in front of one of the homes. The weather was warm, but a comfortable breeze kept us cool. We studied the last lesson of the second book, Walking the Straight Path. The story is about  a teacher in whose class the students argue and bicker with each other, and then instead of forgiving and forgetting they complain of their wrongs and carry grudges for days or weeks. The teacher gives each student an empty sack, and asks them to put a potato in it every time they are hurt, and carry their sack with them for a month. At the end of the month they were going to compare their sacks to see who is most hurt. They were also told that if they forgave anyone they could discard the associated potato. By the end of the first week, the sacks were heavy and rotting giving off an awful smell, but no one was willing to give up their grudges. The story goes on to show that forgiving is not only helpful to others and to the society, but it also lightens the burden of our soul.

We read the story, filled in the blanks, answered questions, and learned several new difficult words, such as rancor, undeterred, and admiration. But above all we had a discussion about hatred, grudges and forgiveness, not at the level of abstract ideas, but at the applied level within the school system. After about an hour of this it was so clear to me that minds had been elevated and consciousness expanded. The sweetest moment was when the junior youth themselves suggested to create a skit based on this story and teach it to their siblings on Wednesday at the children's class. This Program for the Spiritual Empowerment of the Junior Youth is inspired by Baha'i Writings, but it is not in the language of religious instruction. It is hoped to so impact the thoughts of young people that they themselves move away from religious fanaticism and superstition, and embrace unity of thought and vision, which is hidden in the core of all religions.

Baha'u'llah wrote "He whom the grace of Thy mercy aideth, though he be but a drop, shall become the boundless ocean, and the merest atom which the outpouring of Thy loving-kindness assisteth, shall shine even as the radiant star." Some of these junior youth will surely become a boundless ocean, and shine even as a radiant star.