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”?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

On Purity

The second of the three spiritual prerequisites for the success of all Bahá’í undertakings is that “of a chaste and holy life”, "with its implications of modesty, purity, temperance, decency, and clean-mindedness".  We are summoned to a life unsullied "by the indecencies, the vices, the false standards, which an inherently deficient moral code tolerates, perpetuates, and fosters,” [Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 31].

There is one level of understanding this requirement that is addressed primarily to the individual. No amount of social policies and societal restraints can equal the decisions and actions of individuals. If the individual is unconvinced, or gives in to temptation, then no amount of exhortations will have much effect. In this sense then we are all responsible for our own conditions.

We should adhere to purity in all its forms. By purity we strip away the mud that is clinging to us and become our true selves, pure and simple. Pure hands do not steal or cheat; pure tongues do not utter unseemly words, or tell untruths or lies; pure lives do not engage in sexual activity outside the sanctified fortress of marriage; pure minds do not engage in fanciful day-dreams; pure eyes do not see indecent exposures, inappropriate images, or pornography; pure people dress modestly; pure habits avoid sexual vices and false standards; pure conduct avoids dishonesty, unfair dealings, bribery, tyranny or oppression; pure intensions manifest themselves in pure actions, and in taking full responsibility after unintentional mishaps.

While the actual practical implications of these principles may differ from society to society, there is a growing body of research to suggest that there are many universal norms and principles. We do not subscribe to moral relativism.

But beyond appeals to the individuals, there are things that we can do, in our families, communities, and the society, to promote and foster purity.

In older times, say in a small community setting such as in a village, certain social inhibitions and pressures would act as restraints, and as a system of reward and punishment, to regulate people’s desires and appetites for instant gratification. Much of these restraints have evaporated in the social convulsions that have characterized what is ironically called modernization.  In fullness of time a New World Order will have other mechanisms in place to allow for all people to contribute to and benefit from global prosperity. But in this age of transition there are certain pernicious forces at work that influence the mind and hart of young people. And these are aggravated by a relentless media, in pursuit of corporate profits. We need to take collective action to minimize the effects of these forces on our families and communities.

As children grow up to become junior youth and then youth they are very perceptive. If the parents preach purity, but pursue a different agenda, these young minds are bright enough to detect the contradictions. It almost always comes to a choice between materialistic worldview and spiritual perception. Admiration for power, adoration of status, love of luxuries, attachment to frivolous pursuits, glorification of violence, and obsession with self-gratification are among the manifestations of a materialistic worldview. Can you formulate the opposite phrases that articulate spiritual perception?

The best method for a young person to demonstrate purity is not merely to avoid pollution of impurity, but to actively pursue an agenda that renounces materialism. A very good example of this is when a young person moves to a receptive neighborhood in his cluster, in the spirit of pioneering, and takes up the challenge of building a community using the methods and instruments of the training institute, building capacity in the inhabitants of that neighborhood, multiplying the core activities, and rising above the trivial considerations and pursuits of an ephemeral world. And if the parents do not emulate this heroic action, if they do not wholeheartedly, and financially, support it, then how can they believe that they have done all that is possible for the fostering of purity?

In study of this, the 33rd paragraph of the 28 December 2010 letter of the Universal House of Justice, the following questions come to mind.

  1. What are the forces at work on the hearts and minds of the young?
  2. To what extent are exhortations to remain pure and chaste effective?
  3. Isolation and despair, from which so many suffer, are products of what sort of an environment?
  4. What does an all-pervasive materialism have to do with impurity?
  5. What are the powers that flow through pure channels?

Baha’u’llah wrote: “O ye My loved ones! Suffer not the hem of My sacred vesture to be smirched and mired with the things of this world, and follow not the promptings of your evil and corrupt desires… O ye the beloved of the one true God! Pass beyond the narrow retreats of your evil and corrupt desires, and advance into the vast immensity of the realm of God, and abide ye in the meads of sanctity and of detachment, that the fragrance of your deeds may lead the whole of mankind to the ocean of God’s unfading glory.” [Baha'u'llah, quoted in the Advent of Divine Justice, p. 32]

Sunday, November 20, 2011

On Justice

The letter of 28 December 2010 of the Universal House of Justice identifies three “spiritual prerequisites for the success of all Baha'i undertakings”, and paragraph 32 of this message deals with the first of these prerequisites, namely a “rectitude of conduct.” We may imagine that this is only a quality of individuals in their personal dealings with others, not very different from a vague and pious – and often unsuccessful – call for personal morality. But in the original source of this idea, Shoghi Effendi in the Advent of Divine Justice, makes it clear that this is altogether a different concept described as “a high sense of moral rectitude in their social and administrative activities.” We will explore this concept a little more in this posting.

So what is meant by a rectitude of conduct in this context? Firstly it is “an abiding sense of undeviating justice, unobscured by the demoralizing influences which a corruption-ridden political life so strikingly manifests”. “This rectitude of conduct, with its implications of justice, equity, truthfulness, honesty, fair-mindedness, reliability, and trustworthiness, must distinguish every phase of the life of the Bahá’í community.” [Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, p.23]

At the individual level justice is a faculty of human soul that enables each person to distinguish between truth and falsehood. At the social level justice is a principle that demands to be present in every consideration. It is a compass that helps all collective decision making to build unity.

Of course everyone must be just, both personally and collectively. But this appeal is in particular about the institutions using the principles of justice to arrive at collective decisions that everyone would be happy to follow. How will this principle apply to the work of the new institutions of the Faith, namely the cluster agencies of training institute coordinators, and the Area Teaching Committee?

The cluster agencies follow a pattern of consultation, action and reflection. If the proper principles of consultation are applied, it will lead to unity of thought, and the resulting decisions are seen as transparently fair by everyone. Only those who are actually arising for service will contribute to such a consultation. No one will come with a set of preconceived ideas and theoretical consideration, expecting that someone else will implement what he or she is recommending.

There is a relationship between unity and justice. The purpose of justice is to bring about unity. Justice is essential in a decision-making process that seeks to build unity. This is the opposite of when one group attempts to impose a set of ideas on others through contentious negotiation. Justice can curb tendencies towards manipulation and partisanship. This is a significant subject, and two good references that contain much explanation and analysis are Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, pp. 23 – 29, and Bahá’í International Community, The Prosperity of Humankind, pp. 18-21.

In the study of this paragraph the following questions are suggested:

  1. Why this spiritual prerequisite of rectitude of conduct particularly addressed to elected representatives of the community? 
  2. In what sense is the present day society a strangely disordered world?
  3. What are the evidences that political life everywhere has continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate in the intervening years?
  4. What is the list of institutions that will need to particularly implement this standard?

Baha’u’llah wrote: “The companions of God are, in this day, the lump that must leaven the peoples of the world. They must show forth such trustworthiness, such truthfulness and perseverance, such deeds and character that all mankind may profit by their example.” “I swear by Him Who is the Most Great Ocean! Within the very breath of such souls as are pure and sanctified far-reaching potentialities are hidden. So great are these potentialities that they exercise their influence upon all created things.”

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Three Spiritual Prerequisites

Many years ago as I was reading and studying the Writings of Baha’u’llah, I came across a beautiful passage which I then memorized. At this time I cannot find an authorized version of its translation into English, so I will just share the jist of what I have memorized. In this passage Baha’u’llah essentially indicates that two things have always been acceptable in the sight of God: tears that are shed for fear of God, and drops of one’s blood that are shed in the path of God. He then goes on to say that since this second matter has been forbidden, a third has taken its place, and that is devoting ones life in the path of recognition of God, to get to know Him and to make Him known. If any of the readers of this blog are familiar with this passage, or can locate it in authorized translations, I would appreciate hearing from them.

Now I learn two things from the above passage. The first is that the reference to tears and blood may symbolize being and doing. When we transform our inner being and bring it to conform with the will of God we achieve a state of being that represents expanded consciousness, and a sense of purity. This is the “being” part. And when we arise to serve humanity, to help transform the society, and we are so steadfast that we can withstand any external pressure to the point of giving our lives for it, then this is the ultimate in “doing”.

The second thing that I learn from the above passage is that the requirement of service to humanity can change from time to time, and perhaps even from region to region, depending on the requirement of the historical moment. Early in the time of the Bab service would lead to great difficulties and even accepting martyrdom. Later in the latter part of the ministry of Baha’u’llah there was a greater acceptance of the Faith and this requirement was transformed to the requirement of devoting of one’s life to the recognition of God. In a similar way the teaching work was initially on the home front, and later the greatest service was to arise for pioneering in far off lands. Now that the Faith is so well established throughout the planet, the new requirement is of building of spiritual communities in our own neighborhoods and clusters.

Paragraph 31 of the letter of 28 December 2010 of the Universal House of Justice is the start of a new section in this message, and it addresses the question of spiritual prerequisites for the success of all Bahá’í undertakings. Study of this paragraph reminds me of that statement that I referred to above, and it occurs to me to be about "being". Unless we as individuals make an effort to continually advance in acquiring these spiritual qualities we cannot effectively contribute to the transformation of the society. These are the twofold moral purposes and they are intimately linked to one another. 

In study of this paragraph the following questions are suggested:
  1. What are the three duties of the Counsellors and their Auxiliaries?
  2. When did the Guardian write the Advent of Divine Justice?
  3. What was the occasion that prompted the Guardian to write this letter?
  4. How is this letter characterized by the House of Justice?
  5. What are the three spiritual prerequisites of all Bahá’í undertakings?
  6. What are the implications of the observations in this Book for the global effort of the Bahá’í community today?

Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, wrote that “The glowing tributes, so repeatedly and deservedly paid to the capacity, the spirit, the conduct, and the high rank, of the American believers, both individually and as an organic community, must, under no circumstances, be confounded with the characteristics and nature of the people from which God has raised them up. A sharp distinction between that community and that people must be made, and resolutely and fearlessly upheld, if we wish to give due recognition to the transmuting power of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, in its impact on the lives and standards of those who have chosen to enlist under His banner. Otherwise, the supreme and distinguishing function of His Revelation, which is none other than the calling into being of a new race of men, will remain wholly unrecognized and completely obscured.”

Friday, September 30, 2011

Qualified Authority

Our study of the Letter of 28 December 2010 from the Universal House of Justice has brought us to paragraph 30. There is so much that can be said about this paragraph, and so much that can be learned from its study.

It begins by reminding us that individual Baha’is do not seek to serve on the institutions of the Faith. Of course there is no campaigning in Bahá’í elections. No one is running for anything. In fact if the electorate senses that someone - who is never campaigning - nonetheless really wants to be elected, then this attitude and posture would often be interpreted to mean that he or she is not sufficiently detached from pomp or glory on this mortal plane. This is one sure way of not being considered for service on institutions. Also those whose duty is to appoint others to various tasks of service often keep this posture of genuine humility and detachment in mind before making any appointments. But all this does not mean that those who are called for service, for a period of time, are not invested with a singular honor. After all it is a duty, a responsibility, and a tremendous privilege to be a part of a “structure designed to be a channel through which the spirit of the Cause flows.”

The rank and file of the believers are called upon to engage in a set of activities, inspired by their study of the Word of God, that sets them on a path of learning about community building in their neighborhoods. This path includes participation in study circles, learning to engage in meaningful conversations, finding new friends based on shared understanding, and walking a path of service with them. Members of institutions are not exempt from these requirements. And they should not operate on the periphery of this learning process. Just because someone has been elected to an Assembly – Local or National – does not imply that they themselves do not need to be personally engaged in these core activities. And indeed the vast majority of such friends are intimately engaged in the process of implementation of the Plan.

When a person is not serving on one of the institutions, such a person has greater freedom in expressing their personal understanding, according to their own likes and dislikes. But when the same person is now elected to serve on a Spiritual Assembly it is natural that they would want to align their own thinking with and echo the guidance of the Universal House of Justice, lest inadvertently they steer “the community in whatever direction personal preferences dictate.”    

Bahá’í institutions are not without “authority to guide the friends”. But this authority is exercised with an overarching qualification. The whole notion of power and influence is conceptualized in a new light in Bahá’í Writings. Perhaps one way to explain this is by using the concept of service-leadership. Those who are in a position to lead the community, see themselves as serving the community, in an atmosphere of loving fellowship. This concept is so foreign to the current practices in the wider society that it may be difficult to appreciate it. Bahá’í institutions do “exert moral, spiritual and intellectual influence on the lives of individuals and communities”, but they do so within an “ethos of loving service” which “pervades Bahá’í institutional identity.” 

In the study of this paragraph the following questions are suggested:
  1.  What is the proper attitude of an individual towards service on institutions?
  2.  What are some of the qualities and characteristics that members of institutions must strive for?
  3.  Why the members of institutions cannot operate on the periphery of the learning process?
  4.  What is the spiritual significance of this form of exercise of authority?

We have no better example of servant-leader than Abd’u’l-Baha. He lived a life of utter sacrifice in service of humanity. And this month is the centenary of his visit to London. You can read about His journeys to the West here. And you can read the full text of his first public talk delivered in London here.

There is something very spiritual about proper attitudes towards service on institutions. Whereas the wider community may think of such membership as gaining access to a position of influence, in fact it calls for greater sacrifice of oneself. Sacrifice of ones own likes and dislikes, and sacrifice of ones own ideas and thoughts. Abd’u’l-Baha explains this sort of sacrifice by using the analogy of an iron placed in fire. He says: “when a lump of iron is cast into the forge, its ferrous qualities of blackness, coldness and solidity, which symbolize the attributes of the human world, are concealed and disappear, while the fire's distinctive qualities of redness, heat and fluidity, which symbolize the virtues of the Kingdom, become visibly apparent in it." 

And we are called not only to sacrifice ourselves, but also to rejoice in such a sacrifice. This then is the true quality for which all members of institutions strive.  “Ye must in this matter--that is, the serving of humankind--lay down your very lives, and as ye yield yourselves, rejoice.”

Monday, September 19, 2011

In the Context of an Organic Process

Bahá’í institutions operate at many levels. These include local, cluster, regional, national, continental and global. The development of these institutions takes place within the broader context of the process of growth. It is only natural that some of these institutions are more directly concerned with the elements of growth than others. For instance institutions operating at the level of the cluster are almost entirely concerned with processes of growth. While local or national Assemblies will naturally also have duties related to properties, funds, or protection concerns. But while the Assemblies certainly will need to acquire greater capacity to address a multitude of questions, it is equally important that they understand and relate to the processes of growth. We have previously observed that such familiarity cannot be merely at the theoretical level, but must include personal involvement of the Assembly members in the activities, reflections on activities and consultation and planning for cycles of development in neighborhoods.

Maybe we can use an example to illustrate the point. At this time I can only think of a somewhat artificial example, but I hope that my intention becomes clear.

Imagine that we have a few people who are trying to work together and grow some tomato plants. Let us imagine that tomatoes were highly valuable and their society would attach a great deal of importance, honor and respect for any one who could successfully grow tomatoes. Maybe this task was so important that the people in this village had conducted an election, and had elected these few people to be responsible for planting and growing these tomatoes. Now also imagine that these folks know nothing about seeds, nutrients, soil composition, watering, pruning or any other aspect of gardening. Such a lack of practical knowledge, or an absence of a conceptual framework, does not by itself inhibit these people, and they will proceed to formulate their ideas. Each one of these appointed or elected officials begins to make certain proposals and develops plans and schemes for doing their work. They also consult about their work to make collective decisions. But since they do not know very much about the principles of gardening, other factors begin to influence their thinking. Perhaps the social dynamics including competition, popularity, the distinctions among the members, the consideration of whose ideas should be followed, and a host of other questions related to the Old World Order concepts of power and influence become the dominant issues among them.

We can easily see that in the above scenario lack of knowledge about the dynamics of gardening has been combined with secondary and irrelevant considerations related to seeking ascendency over one another, and has completely obscured the real issues. Knowledge has been set aside, and completely overshadowed by biases, prejudices, and narrow-mindedness of the participants in the decision making process.

This condition can be resolved if one person arrives, who is familiar with the chemistry and organic nature of gardening, who has some skills of dealing with tomato plants, and who in a complete posture of humble service sets about to learn about the present conditions of the soil and the climate, and in a modest way begins to try to carry out the necessary tasks. Now knowledge about the natural forces which govern the organic growth of this little garden take precedence over all the interactions among the workers. The nature of the questions change from who should make decisions. The focus becomes the task at hand, and not the personalities involved. It is a high mark of the maturity of the institutions that they have now come to this level of understanding.

Paragraph 29 of the message of 28 December 2010 from the Universal House of Justice expresses the hope that the friends who serve on various institutions carry out their tasks in the context of the organic process of growth. This then represents a new stage in the development of these institutions. The focus moves away from the personalities and is focused on the process of growth.

The study of this paragraph suggests the following questions:

1.     What is the context within which institutions of community administration should develop?

2.     Why is growth referred to as an organic process?

3.     What are some of the privileges of those who serve in various institutional capacity?

4.     What are some of the boundaries implied by these privileges?
Abdu’l-Baha wrote “O ye loved ones of God! In this, the Bahá’í dispensation, God’s Cause is spirit unalloyed. His Cause belongeth not to the material world. It cometh neither for strife nor war, nor for acts of mischief or of shame; it is neither for quarrelling with other Faiths, nor for conflicts with the nations. Its only army is the love of God, its only joy the clear wine of His knowledge, its only battle the expounding of the Truth; its one crusade is against the insistent self, the evil promptings of the human heart. Its victory is to submit and yield, and to be selfless is its everlasting glory. In brief, it is spirit upon spirit.” [Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 257]

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Service on Institutions

Paragraph 28 of the letter of 28 December 2010 of the Universal House of Justice begins a new section dealing with service on Bahá’í institutions. Because of its importance, here is the full text of this paragraph.

“In setting out for you in these pages developments we are eager to see in the administrative work of the Faith during the next Five Year Plan, we are reminded of the repeated warnings raised by the Guardian in this regard.  "Let us take heed lest in our great concern for the perfection of the administrative machinery of the Cause," he stated, "we lose sight of the Divine Purpose for which it has been created."  The Baha'i administrative machinery, he reiterated again and again, "is to be regarded as a means, and not an end in itself".  It is intended, he made clear, "to serve a twofold purpose".  On the one hand, "it should aim at a steady and gradual expansion" of the Cause "along lines that are at once broad, sound and universal."  On the other, "it should ensure the internal consolidation of the work already achieved."  And he went on to explain:  "It should both provide the impulse whereby the dynamic forces latent in the Faith can unfold, crystallize, and shape the lives and conduct of men, and serve as a medium for the interchange of thought and the coordination of activities among the divers elements that constitute the Baha'i community."”

In many societies there is a tension between the individuals and social institutions. In particular institutions of governance in Western societies are seen as necessary evils for the maintenance of order. A libertarian argument goes something like this: legislative institutions, such the senate and the house of representatives, at state or federal levels, draw up and pass laws and regulations. These are enforced by executive institutions, including regulatory agencies, and coercive elements including the police, and correctional facilities. Year after year, as long as we have legislators, they will have to legislate. The total number and complexity of laws continues to increase. This will necessitate others to enforce these laws. Therefore even if the total size of the population remains stable, there is a tendency for the size of the government to grow. In an adversarial system the need for more and more lawyers then grows, unlike the number of educators or health providers.

This line of reasoning has lead many people to formulate a principle to reduce the size of the government, believing that governments are of little productive use and that they do not generate wealth. While these governments tax the working population and distribute wealth, and perhaps even bring a measure of social justice for the more unfortunate among us, they do not stimulate innovation or productivity. These are believed to come from what is termed market forces. But it is left to our imagination as what these forces are, if they are real or positive, and if society can be left at their mercy. While we can accept that many people do act in self-interested ways, and these actions will have aggregate effects, I want to suggest that it is misleading to believe in such “forces” as though they were some mystical or spiritual forces that exist and can influence social dynamics.

Institutions of governance exercise a certain authority and the people who operate in these institutions hold a certain power by virtue of the office that they occupy.  To reduce the abuse of power in the current society we have the ingenious arrangement of balance of powers. Such an arrangement is necessary in a society where there is little or no spiritual education about exercise of power.

The Bahá’í community is deliberately hoping to construct a different model. To begin with the Bahá’í electoral process is designed to promote the election of those members who are deemed to be least egotistical and most service-oriented in the eyes of the members of the Bahá’í community themselves. Then, once elected, there is great emphasis on the members viewing their service in a humble light. Service on the institutions is to be regarded as a means and not an end in itself. Therefore the whole discourse of power does not enter the conception of the duties and functions of the members of Assemblies.

If institutions are the means, then what are the ends? As we reflect on this question we note that there is a reference to “dynamic forces latent in the Faith”. These are mystical, and other-worldly, but very real and positive forces. These forces tap the roots of motivation. Such forces have been the driving energy behind many great accomplishments, both individually and collectively. What a contrast between these real forces, and the illusory forces of a self-centered market place!

In study of this paragraph the following questions come to mind:

  1. What does it mean to say that administration of community affairs is not to be regarded as an end in itself?
  2. The administration of community affairs should be regarded as a means to what ends?
  3.  Why such a warning might be necessary?
  4.  What are the twofold purposes of community administration?
  5.  What should be the impact of administrative machinery on the lives and conduct of the people?
  6.  What then are the salient differences between a rule-bound bureaucracy and a mature administrative machinery?

Baha'u'llah wrote: "Thy day of service is now come. Countless Tablets bear the testimony of the bounties vouchsafed unto thee... Thou must show forth that which will ensure the peace and the well-being of the miserable and the downtrodden. Gird up the loins of thine endeavour, that perchance thou mayest release the captive from his chains, and enable him to attain unto true liberty."

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Urban Spiritual Assemblies

In its letter of 28 December 2010 the Universal House of Justice dedicates one paragraph, number 27, to the development of Local Spiritual Assemblies in urban settings. The previous 8 paragraphs describe in some detail the trajectory followed by a Spiritual Assembly situated in a village, from its formation to consultation on some aspect of growth, and on to higher levels of functioning. At the risk of over-simplification here is a bird’s eye view of these previous 8 paragraphs.

  • Para. 19 – Consider first Local Assemblies in rural clusters with large-scale growth.
  • Para. 20 – Newly formed Assemblies in villages also develop with capacity building.
  • Para. 21 – Village Assembly should consult on some aspects of growth and support the process.
  • Para. 22 – Assembly to promote and protect the process of growth with a sense of responsibility that encompasses the entire village.
  • Para. 23 – Assembly to use resources wisely and nurture a spiritual environment to mobilize large numbers to service.
  • Para. 24 – Assembly to make sure that social action emerges only in coherence with the elements of the Plan.
  • Para. 25 – Assembly to raise consciousness and advance discourses locally.
  • Para. 26 – Increasingly Local Spiritual Assemblies in villages will show their capacity.

Urban Assemblies must follow this same path. This includes most of the Assemblies in the West, as well as those in major cities throughout the world.

That so much emphasis was put on the development of Assemblies in villages speaks of the confidence and trust in the emergence of these institutions in village settings. That urban Assemblies must follow the same path indicates that we do not follow some “trickle-down” arrangement, and many urban Assemblies may learn from the dynamic example of their sister institutions in villages of the world.

In the past, much of the concern of Spiritual Assemblies were the inner workings of the Bahá’í community itself, large or small.  The picture that now emerges is the intense concern of the Assembly with promoting those activities that will benefit the entire village.

In the past what was at the center of the community life, and what might have been at the periphery? Certainly the Feast, the Fund and electoral process were at the center. These separated those who were enrolled and those who were not. They would identify us. Now at the core of Bahá’í life there are those activities – aptly called core activities – that are open to all, and which operate by connecting the heart to the Word of God. The major concern of an Assembly is to help the believers initiate, then sustain, such activities at the core of our social and spiritual collective existence with significant participation by many of those in the village who may not be Baha'is.

So how can an Assembly in a city accomplish this task? Increasingly the Assemblies are learning to divide their cities into neighborhoods, and treat each neighborhood as a separate village. Once the community comes to understand the logic of this decentralization, they will naturally begin to implement the core activities, as well as the Holy Days, and other functions in their own neighborhood, embracing a large number of their own neighbors in all its spiritual activities.

If you live in a city of some half a million people, and if we assume that a typical neighborhood is about ten thousand people or so, then you will have about 50 neighborhoods in your city. If only a fraction of these can have only a handful of core activities at this time, what are we looking at? Of course in practice there are many other considerations, but this simple calculation indicates the vast potential that is yet to be realized.

So here are a few questions to help in the study of this paragraph:

  1. What are the differences between rural and urban communities?
  2. What are social spaces, and how can we find them?
  3. Can you make a tentative list of social spaces in your neighborhood? Can you now describe their receptivity and openness to hear about any wisdom enshrined in the teachings?
  4. Can you try to now list those human resources, living in your neighborhood, who may have some access to these social spaces?
  5. What are some of the social political and cultural institutions in your neighborhood, or in your city?
Shoghi Effendi wrote: “The American nation… stands, indeed, from whichever angle one observes its immediate fortunes, in grave peril. The woes and tribulations which threaten it are partly avoidable, but mostly inevitable and God-sent, for by reason of them a government and people clinging tenaciously to the obsolescent doctrine of absolute sovereignty and upholding a political system, manifestly at variance with the needs of a world already contracted into a neighborhood and crying out for unity, will find itself purged of its anachronistic conceptions, and prepared to play a preponderating the unification of mankind." [Soghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p.127] 
As we build models of a united community in a neighborhood, the Local Spiritual Assemblies will build a model of governance that is coherent with the conception of a spiritual community.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Trustees of the Merciful

The story of birth and development of Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assemblies is a fascinating one. There is of course a very practical side to such stories. But there is also a deeply spiritual side which is entirely mystical.

I remember that while teaching the Faith in Africa during the 1980s I arrived with a group of other teachers in a certain village, where no one had yet heard of the Faith. As we met with the headman, and he called his people to come and listen to us, we were able to lay bare the message of Baha’u’llah with beauty and simplicity. In the course of that same afternoon we were able to answer many questions, as there were many people who were sincerely interested and profoundly touched. Scores declared their Faith that same day. They asked, and we also wondered, what will come next. We knew that this particular village was far off the beaten path, and that our experience told us that we may not get another chance to revisit this village anytime soon. So we offered several complimentary options to help deepen their love for Baha’u’llah and for service for humanity. They could send a few selected young people to visit the capital city where they could stay for a few weeks to learn more, and there was also a deepening course that was available through mail, and we would leave some literature behind. But there had to be more. We had little understanding then of how to effectively build capacity.

We knew about the special spiritual blessing that would come from having formed a Local Spiritual Assembly. So I described this to them, and they agreed that on that same day we should help them form this Assembly. With all the declared Baha’is present at the meeting, it was simple enough for us to conduct the Bahá’í electoral process in an atmosphere of joy. This sacred election was done, and the headman and his village people were content.

I thought to myself, and I prayed as well, that while receptivity is to such an extent, how could we expect that in one afternoon this whole village would be so transformed as to stand on its own feet. I have no doubt that while the Assembly did not function in any meaningful way, that for years after that day, those far off believers in that remote village would read their Bahá’í books, would receive the regular national newsletter, perhaps make up their own songs, and will continue to regard themselves as new Baha’is with a sense of renewed vigor. It was sad that I was never again able to visit that village, but I heard from other visitors who went there that the community has continued to exist. I know that the mysterious blessings that are associated with forming their Assembly has helped them keep on to their new identity. If there were clusters in place then, with their schemes of coordination, and nearby tutors they could have carried on the work that we had started, such an Assembly would have a chance to take ownership.

Now as we learn in this Plan how to raise the capacities of the members of such remote communities, it is possible for them not only to exist as Baha’is, but also to trace a path for growth and development. We can now join the practical and systematic effort at capacity-raising to that essential mystical element of faith and confirmation.

The following questions may help in the study of the 26th paragraph of the letter of 28 December 2010, from the Universal House of Justice.
  1. What are some of the attributes that the Local Spiritual Assemblies should gradually develop?
  2. What does it mean that the members of the Assemblies can be seen as "the trusted ones of the Merciful among men"?
  3. If the Assemblies in villages develop their expected attributes, how will their members be seen by the inhabitants of these villages? Can you elaborate on the dynamics of this social development?
Abdu’l-Baha wrote: “As to you, O ye other handmaids who are enamoured of the heavenly fragrances, arrange ye holy gatherings, and found ye Spiritual Assemblies, for these are the basis for spreading the sweet savours of God, exalting His Word, uplifting the lamp of His grace, promulgating His religion and promoting His Teachings, and what bounty is there greater than this? These Spiritual Assemblies are aided by the Spirit of God. Their defender is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Over them He spreadeth His wings. What bounty is there greater than this? These Spiritual Assemblies are shining lamps and heavenly gardens, from which the fragrances of holiness are diffused over all regions, and the lights of knowledge are shed abroad over all created things. From them the spirit of life streameth in every direction. They, indeed, are the potent sources of the progress of man, at all times and under all conditions. What bounty is there greater than this? [Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 79]

Social Action

As the Bahá’í community continues to focus on learning about the essential ingredients of building spiritual neighborhoods, new avenues for learning will open up.  Therefore a new element has now been introduced in this Five Year Plan, for 2011-2016, which did not exist in the previous Five Year Plan. This element is known as social action.

Of course successive Plans are not disconnected from each other. In fact we view all of the Plans as part of an organic whole. They are indeed successive stages of the same Plan conceived by Abdu’l-Baha in 1916 and 1917, and communicated by Him to the American and Canadian Baha’is in the Tablets of Divine Plan. These were the war years and postal services operated only in limited ways. One limitation was that letters written and enclosed in sealed envelopes would not be delivered. Therefore Abdu’l-Baha wrote some of these original tablets on the back of post cards. As they were being transmitted from Haifa across the land, sea, and a vast ocean, these precious messages were open and visible to anyone who wanted to read them. The same sense of openness and inclusivity permeates the current phase of these Plans.

If we use the analogy of the growth of a tree, we can say that at each stage a new leaf grows, a new branch off shoots, or a new fruit appears. The first fruit during 1996-2001 period was the appearance of the training institutes on a large and systematic basis throughout the Bahá’í world. The next five years saw the emergence of the concept of cluster, followed by the establishment of intensive programs of growth. And now we arrive at the stage when a new fruit is visible on this tree. This new fruit is social action at the level of the neighborhood and cluster.

We know precious little about this at this time, but already a few elements are beginning to be understood, as we collectively work and learn from action. In fact we know more about what it is not, than what it is. Social action is not acts of charity by the rich for the benefit of the poor. Social action is not a development project as is commonly understood and practiced by the development agencies. Social action is not the same as activism, and it has nothing to do with protest. Social action does not normally start as a large and complex enterprise. The methods and approaches used in social action cannot be mechanistic. And social action cannot separate the people into developed and underdeveloped, or into givers and receivers.

This list can go on still. Social action is not about financial grants, even though some funds may be involved. Social action is not about the provision of technology, packaged or otherwise, even though the application of knowledge has a central role in social action. And social action is not about participatory reaction to some proposed idea that is assumed to help the lot of a people. In particular those serving in a capital city of each country, say at the National Bahá’í Center, will not design a particular line of action, and then take this to the villages seeking to attract participation of the villagers.

One thing we do know. The training institute raises the capacity of the individuals of all ages. As they come to better appreciate the attributes of the soul, and its connection with its Creator, as they connect with the Word of God, as they develop their powers of expression, as they arise and serve as teachers, animators and tutors, they are bound to reflect on their own human condition. And as they engage in cycles of action and reflection, these souls with raised capacities and expanded consciousnesses are bound to commit that which will enhance their spiritual and material lot. This then, in all its simplicity, is social action.

Like all organic systems social action, once it is born in the matrix of the institute process in a neighborhood, it is bound to grow and develop. It will gradually acquire added elements. And one day it may indeed be a large and complex enterprise. Its rate of growth however is intimately bound by its coherence with all other activities, and a sense of community in that neighborhood.

As we study this paragraph 25 of the letter of 28 December 2010 the following questions may be helpful.
  1. What are a few of the characteristics of social action at the grass roots described in the Ridvan 2010 message?
  2. What are some of the conditions that social action at the grass roots level must meet, as described in the Ridvan 2010 message?
  3. What is the role of the Nineteen Day Feast for social action?
  4. What are some of the potential pitfalls for social action?
  5. What is the relationship of the institute process and social action?
Baha’u’llah wrote: "[I]s not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions? For if the character of mankind be not changed, the futility of God’s universal Manifestations would be apparent." [Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, p.241]

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A growing maturity

In this series of blog posts we have been studying and reflecting on the guidance provided by the Universal House of Justice in its letter of 28 December 2010 addressed to the members of the five Continental Boards of Counsellors who were assembled on that day in Haifa for five days of deliberations on the course pursued by the Bahá’í community, worldwide, in its efforts to build a model for a future world civilization that progresses continuously and achieves a balance on both the material and spiritual aspects of our lives. The pace of this study has generally been about one per week, on the average, with some exceptions, but I have tried to post about 4 per month. Therefore for the month of June we study the four paragraphs of 21 to 24. The theme of these paragraphs is raising institutional capacity at the local level, and in this particular post we will focus on paragraph 24.

Throughout the decades of the second half of the twentieth century an increasing number of Baha’is responded to the call for homefront or international pioneering. Many of those who arrived in far flung pioneering posts taught the Faith as best as they could, trying to keep expansion and consolidation in balance while at the same time exerting effort to win the goals that were set at the outset of each plan. Some of these goals had to do with increasing the number of localities where Baha’is resided, and other goals were related to the objective of forming Spiritual Assemblies in an increasing number of villages. Yet other goals such as the building of Bahá’í centers or translation and publication of literature dealt with consolidation of the emerging communities. Great victories were won on all of these fronts.

Initially the visiting teachers had to assist with the electoral process of the newly formed Assemblies. Then there were various training classes and the use of traveling teachers to help the new friends appreciate the importance of performing the electoral process in a timely manner. Some even thought that we should “form now and function later”. This effort, valiant and heroic as it was, represented only our initial understanding of the complex dynamics of capacity building.

A few of the pioneers were astonished why the new friends would not, on their own, perform these routine administrative tasks. One may have heard an expression of surprise that after we have “told them” and even “showed them” how elections, meetings and minute keeping should be done still these were not done. This stood at great contrast against the devotion, utter self-sacrifice, a strong sense of commitment and identity, and many acts of service performed by these same new friends. When I would visit a remote home in a village, the residents would welcome me with open arms, gather together in large numbers, possibly slaughter their only remaining chicken in their yard to cook a befitting meal for me, as we would pray and sing together in great adoration of Baha’u’llah, the Blessed Beauty. They had, and still have, such a strong attraction to beauty of all things spiritual.

Reflection on these experiences then compels us to realize that raising capacity of villagers, indeed of anyone, to engage in formal institutional activity is not a simple task, and development is not something that we can simply "tell them" or “show them”. There is a long and methodic process for raising capacity, which requires careful attention and concerted effort. This lesson is not only relevant to the process of community building modeled by the Bahá’í community, but it has wide ramifications for other like-minded persons and organizations, including non-profit organizations and civil society groups intent on raising the capacity of people and institutions everywhere.

In study of paragraph 24 the following questions can be considered:
1 – Once a community grows in size and capacity, the friends will be drawn further into the life of society. Can you locate the paragraph in the Ridvan 2008 that explains this development in some detail?

2 – What have we learned from the systematization of the training and teaching work that might now be useful for us?

3 – How is a community challenged to take advantage of these lessons learned to respond to a widening range of issues that face the village?

4 – How are these new approaches similar to or different from previous approaches to social action, and socio-economic developments?

5 – How has the question of coherence within activities related to growth been achieved so far?

6 – How can such coherence now be extended to include social and economic action?

7 – The Spiritual Assembly is guided not to act as the executor of such socio-economic projects, but rather to act as the voice of moral authority, to ensure that such projects do not compromise the integrity of the activities that have so far been achieved. This task, now given to the Local Spiritual Assemblies, requires the highest level of maturity and intimate familiarity with the language, the concepts, and the dynamics of organic systems, of which both growth and social action form a part. Can you elaborate on this?

This last question is an excellent candidate for reflection, and I invite you to further comment on this concept, here on this blog.

Abdu’l-Baha wrote: “These Spiritual Assemblies are shining lamps and heavenly gardens, from which the fragrances of holiness are diffused over all regions, and the lights of knowledge are shed abroad over all created things. From them the spirit of life streameth in every direction. They, indeed, are the potent sources of the progress of man, at all times and under all conditions. What bounty is there greater than this?” [Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, page 81]

Upholding the standard of justice

Consider the case of a village with a few thousand residents. In addition to farming activities there may be other cottage industries, a school, a clinic, and other social spaces. It is clear that the community has a collective consciousness, even if not all members share in exactly the same beliefs. There may be a few different religious groups, each advancing their own particular beliefs. It is unfortunate, but it may be a social reality that some of these religious groupings have a history of competition. The Bahá’í community is also a distinct community with its particular beliefs and organizational practices. However it is a long tradition that Baha’is “consort with people of all religions”. In particular the principal social and spiritual activities of the Bahá’í community is designed to include people of all walks of life. There is no contradiction then in a person, for example, attending a church regularly, remaining a devout Christian, and also participating in Bahá’í core activities, which are after all devoid of any rituals or dogmatic beliefs and practices.

The institution of the Local Spiritual Assembly in such a village is concerned with the well being of all people in the village. Just as the community activities are open to all, so is the Assembly accessible to all. If two people have some sort of dispute, they can choose to bring their concerns to the Assembly. If the Assembly has built up a reputation as operating on the principles of unity and justice, and its members are known for upright character, we can imagine that many people in the village would want to take advantage of the existence of this institution. What other element in a village has learned how to “put aside the divisive ways of a partisan mindset, how to find the seeds of unity in even the most perplexing and thorny situations and how to nurture them slowly and lovingly, upholding at all times the standard of justice”?

This last quote is taken from paragraph 23 of the letter of 28 December, 2010, of the Universal House of Justice. The study of this paragraph will open new vistas in the collective mindset of the village, including its Bahá’í community, and its Spiritual Assembly.  The following questions may help in such a study.

1 – How and to what ends should a Spiritual Assembly “properly assess and utilize resources, financial and otherwise”?

2 – At this stage of the development of village communities, why should its physical facilities be essentially modest?
3 – What should an Assembly do if the “energies and talents” of the believers are currently being directed towards a divergent set of activities and priorities?

4 – Describe the function of an Assembly in maintaining the spiritual health and well-being of the community. How far outside of the Bahá’í community should this extend?

Baha’u’llah wrote: “The religion of God and His divine law are the most potent instruments and the surest of all means for the dawning of the light of unity amongst men. The progress of the world, the development of nations, the tranquility of the peoples, and the peace of all who dwell on earth are among the principles and ordinances of God.” [Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 130]

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Promoting the best interests of a community

The Bahá’í community has been pursuing a deliberate and conscious path towards creating a model for a future civilization. Often, if such a model exists, it can inspire people that it is possible to arrest the decay in their own society and build a better community. Towards this goal the world was divided to some 16000 or so clusters. The criteria for such clustering had nothing to do with the Bahá’í community itself, and everything to do with demographics of the people living in these clusters. The focus of attention then turned to strengthening these clusters, creating agencies that would serve the cluster, and setting in place a dynamic that will propel that cluster on a new path for progress. In many ways the interests of the localities were widened to focus on the interests of the clusters.

Naturally many of the friends who were busy with service on Local Spiritual Assemblies were eager to learn about the dynamics of growth unfolding in their clusters. They began to study the courses of the institute, and participate in core activities. The individuals would engage in service, and institutions would support them. At that time it was less clear as what an Assembly may do to bolster the process of growth, beyond acknowledgement and encouragement of the individual and collective efforts.  By now some 15 years has elapsed in carrying out this program. As the processes of growth mature in cluster after cluster, the contribution that Assemblies can make is becoming clearer. The Universal House of Justice in its 28 December 2010 letter, paragraph 22, enumerates and explains a number of these duties and functions that a village Local Spiritual Assembly can perform. 

Naturally one of these duties is to consult on specific issues related to the global Plan. But the Assemblies can do this only if the individual members of the Assembly have gained first hand experience in implementing the provisions of the Plan. Since we have said that we should look at the development of the Assemblies as a process of capacity building, it is easy to see then how the training institute that builds the capacity of the individuals in the teaching work also contributes to the development of Assemblies.

Beyond those activities directly related to growth there are of course several other duties of Assemblies. Since there are no formal programs for raising capacity in these areas, the Assemblies will do well to apply some of the operating principles of the training institutes in an effort to learn from action in the field.

In study of this paragraph, the following questions come to mind:

1 – What are some of the dimensions of capacity building for Spiritual Assemblies?

2 – What injunction does Abdu’l-Baha lay down for the continued development of Spiritual Assembly?

3 – If you serve on an Assembly what portion of your consultations fulfill the above hopes of Abdu’l-Baha, and what portion is taken by other necessary administrative work?

4 – How can a village Assembly practically provide “relief of the poor” given its limited resources? How might this be different that charity that is merely focused on the material dimension of life?

5 – How can an Assembly help “the feeble throughout all classes” in a village? Are there any useful ways in which this service may be integrated into “home visits”?

6 – An Assembly naturally wants to show “kindness to all peoples” in the village. How might those who are neither Baha’is nor participate in core activities feel the warmth of such kindness?

7 – There are certain aspects of protection work that are needed in a community. In particular those who serve in the teaching field or facilitate core activities are mere mortals and are not expected to be always perfect or stainless. What can the Assemblies do to practically contribute to this protection work?

8 – What is the relationship between the soul of Abdu’l-Baha in the spiritual worlds of God and the Spiritual Assemblies on this earthly plane?

Baha’u’llah wrote: “The purpose of religion as revealed from the heaven of God’s holy Will is to establish the unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife.” [Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 129]