Saturday, January 8, 2011

A new chapter in the Plan for building a new civilization

The new Plan given by the Universal House of Justice is described in its letter of 28 December 2010 addressed to the conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors. We are called upon to give it "thoughtful study." [Universal House of Justice, latter dated 1 January 2011, addressed to the Baha'is of the world]

Beyond the Baha'i community the content of this document is of great value for every practitioner of community development. I hope to write something about each paragraph in this magnificent document.

There are 44 paragraphs arranged in 3 sections: The first section describes the plan itself in 30 paragraphs. Section 2 talks about the 3 spiritual prerequisites of rectitude of conduct, a chaste and holy life, and freedom from prejudice. Section 3 calls for new habits of thought, new modes of thinking and doing.

The first paragraph of this document contains this sentence: "Over the coming days you are asked to formulate a clear conception of how the Counsellors and their auxiliaries will assist the community in building on its extraordinary achievements -- extending to other spheres of operation the mode of learning which has so undeniably come to characterize its teaching endeavours, gaining the capacity needed to employ with a high degree of coherence the instruments and methods which it has so painstakingly developed, and increasing well beyond all previous numbers the ranks of those who, alive to the vision of the Faith, are labouring so assiduously in pursuit of its God-given mission.”

Consider these 3 questions which are suggested by the above paragraph:
1.     What are the characteristics of  “the mode of learning which has so undeniably come to characterize [our] endeavours?”

2.     What are “the instruments and methods which [we have] so painstakingly developed?”

3.     What may be some of the “other spheres of operation” which require the same “instruments and methods?”

A mode of learning is when we acknowledge that we do not have a blue print for building spiritual communities. What we have are a few principles and a conceptual framework. As we act we try to apply these principles. We work in our neighborhoods. And we observe, then analyze the results.  We develop perception and spiritual insight. Then collectively we improve on our lines of action, until  every day we can make our neighborhoods a little more united, a little more peaceful, a little more spiritual. 

Acknowledging that community building is an organic process the instruments and methods will have to be appropriate to the task at hand. One "method" for example, is study that is wedded to action. So we do not study and wait many years until we are somehow "certified" for some function. But rather as we study, we also concurrently act. Since the subject matter of our study is community building, knowledge about it is best acquired by a combination of doing and thinking.

Another example of an "instrument" is the function of a "coordinator." Once in a neighborhood the number of those serving the community increases, it is helpful for one of them to act as a coordinator. This will only work if the coordinator does not think of himself or herself as some sort of an expert. If the coordinator thinks of herself as a manager, or above others in heirarchy, or consider others as somehow inferior to herself she will be unable to fulfill her duties and the process will suffer a setback. So we have the concept of accompaniment as a principle, and the actions of those who humbly and truly accompany others as an instrument.

Finally these methods and principles that we have learned so far can be applied not only to bring to the attention of the people of the world the teachings, the message, and the writings of Baha'u'llah, but also these same principles - that of humility, of working on equal footing, of believing in the high potential of others, of walking with others in a path of service, of being joyous at the accomplishment of others instead of our own - these same principles apply to social action, to defense of human rights of others, to confronting discrimination, and a whole host of other aspects of social development. Baha'u'llah wrote:

"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. Justice is, in this day, bewailing its plight, and Equity groaneth beneath the yoke of oppression. The thick clouds of tyranny have darkened the face of the earth, and enveloped its peoples. Through the movement of Our Pen of glory We have, at the bidding of the omnipotent Ordainer, breathed a new life into every human frame, and instilled into every word a fresh potency. All created things proclaim the evidences of this world-wide regeneration. This is the most great, the most joyful tidings imparted by the Pen of this Wronged One to mankind."


  1. Mr. Aghdasi,

    You share with us that "A mode of learning is when we acknowledge that we do not have a blue print for building spiritual communities." It is really a wonderful thing that we are all engaged in a humble posture of learning. And I was reflecting about how a tutor can create an environment of learning, an environment where participants come each week empowered to learn. After a few study circles, the tutor will ask the participants: "Why do you come to the study circle? You could be doing other things but why do you come to the study circle?" The hope is that the participants will say: "I come learn. I attend the study circle to discover beauty enshrined in the Revelation." A month later, the tutor will ask: "Why do you come to the study circle?" The answer will surely be: " I come to learn." So how does the tutor create this atmosphere of learning. As we know the tutor is not the one providing the answers to the participants but rather facilitating discussions and creating a desire in the participants to want to discover reality. Perhaps the tutor does not answer a question but poses the question to the group or follows it with a reflective question. The tutor never says: "I know". That should not be in the vocabulary of those serving as tutors. I know and you don't know. Let me tell you. Perhaps the tutor does not go over all the exercises but picks a few of them to go over as he is confident that the group will even change their answer over the years because the tutor has created an environment for learning. The pedagogy of the Ruhi Institute is not about filling out true and false questions but it is truly about study of the Revelation, reflecting deeply about what Baha'u'llah is telling us, and how we can translate what He has given us into reality by carrying it out in action. As you mentioned study wedded in action. These are just some thoughts and my current understanding.

  2. Dear Quddus,

    Your comments are very helpful. I particularly enjoy the way you describe the pedagogy of the training institute in cycles of action and reflection leading to an ever advancing learning process.

  3. Mr. Aghdasi, in the Súriy-i-Haykal, Baha'u'llah says: "For now, however, they have hidden Me behind a veil of darkness, whose fabric they have woven with the hands of idle fancy and vain imagination. Erelong shall the snow-white hand of God rend an opening through the darkness of this night and unlock a mighty portal unto His City. On that Day shall the people enter therein by troops, uttering what the blamers aforetime exclaimed, that there shall be made manifest in the end that which appeared in the beginning." I was reflecting about this quote and it is interesting to note that the Universal House of Justice mentions that the core activities are "portals" and could it be that the "snow-white" be the building where the beloved Universal House of Justice meets. What are your thoughts? It is my hope that more of you will participate in this wonderful space to share our experiences and thoughts.

  4. Dear Quddus,

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts. It is very apt. This statement from Baha'u'llah appears in His tablet addressed to Násiri’d-Dín Sháh, and as you say it has many implications. It is significant that He chose to say this to his most powerful enemy.

    The reference to the blamers is a reference to the story of Joseph, recounted both in the Bible and the Quran, when he was sent in to the presence of women who blamed the wife of the governor of Egypt who had fallen in love with Joseph, then a mere man-servant. When those women saw the beauty and charm of Joseph they were so enamored that they cut their own hands.

    Bahá’u’lláh, in one of His Tablets, describes Himself as the “Divine Joseph” Who has been “bartered away” by the heedless “for the most paltry of prices”.

    The beauty and charm of the teachings of Baha'u'llah - the true Joseph - will so attract the people of the world that they will "enter therein by troops, uttering what the blamers aforetime exclaimed": "May God preserve us! no mortal is this! this is none other than a noble angel!"

    The text of Quran, Surah of Joseph, goes like this:

    31. When she heard of their malicious talk, she sent for them and prepared a banquet for them: she gave each of them a knife: and she said (to Joseph), "Come out before them." When they saw him, they did extol him, and (in their amazement) cut their hands: they said, "(Allah) preserve us! no mortal is this! this is none other than a noble angel!"

    32. She said: "There before you is the man about whom ye did blame me! I did seek to seduce him from his (true) self but he did firmly save himself guiltless!....and now, if he doth not my bidding, he shall certainly be cast into prison, and (what is more) be of the company of the vilest!"

  5. Thank you for the explanation of the blamers.

  6. I was really amazed about Joseph's story I first heard from the talks given by Taherzadeh Adib in Alaska in 1984.