In Ruhi Book 10.1, (Accompanying One Another on the Path of Service) page 86-87, we read the following:
- In the above episode, we begin to see how a rise in capacity to engage in meaningful conversation with youth in different settings is crucial to the continued expansion of the educational process the training institute sets in motion in a cluster. Here is an opportunity for you and the other members of your group to think together about the nature of this capacity and about the spiritual themes that, as the House of Justice notes, tap “the deepest springs of motivation”. As a first step, it should not be difficult for your group, bearing Enidia’s list in mind, and using sources readily available to you, to put together some passages on the themes she has identified. Once you have done so, you could undertake a thorough exploration of each theme. It may well take some time for your group to carry out these explorations, especially if you decide to go a step further and engage in a corresponding process of action and reflection. In that case, every member could actually hold a conversation with some youth on the proposed themes, and you could then reflect together on each experience.
Our study circle, consisting of long-term deepened Bahá’ís recognized that we didn’t know where to start a discussion, even among ourselves on these themes, so we did some research and combined our knowledge into this article, hoping that these quotes would help others going through Book 10.
We’d be most interested to have you add your own quotes to each section, so we can have an even better list. Hope you find our efforts helpful!
Period of Youth:
Blessed is he who in the prime of his youth and the heyday of his life will arise to serve the Cause of the Lord of the beginning and of the end, and adorn his heart with His love. The manifestation of such a grace is greater than the creation of the heavens and of the earth. Blessed are the steadfast and well is it with those who are firm. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 415)
The period of youth is characterized by strength and vigor and stands out as the choicest time in human life. Therefore 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; that you may become the means of exaltation and glory for the Cause of God and the dawning places of His heavenly bestowals; that you may conduct yourselves in conformity with the counsels and exhortations of the Blessed Beauty—may my life be offered up for His loved ones—and by reflecting Bahá’í qualities and attributes, you may stand out distinguished from others. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá eagerly anticipates that each one of you may become even as a fearless lion moving in the pastures of human perfection and a musk-laden breeze wafting over the meads of virtue. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers and Tablets for the Young (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1978), p. 30)
After a time he enters the period of youth in which his former conditions and needs are superseded by new requirements applicable to the advance in his degree. His faculties of observation are broadened and deepened, his intelligent capacities are trained and awakened, the limitations and environment of childhood no longer restrict his energies and accomplishments. At last he passes out of the period of youth and enters the stage or station of maturity which necessitates another transformation and corresponding advance in his sphere of life-activity. New powers and perceptions clothe him, teaching and training commensurate with his progression occupy his mind, special bounties and bestowals descend in proportion to his increased capacities and his former period of youth and its conditions will no longer satisfy his matured view and vision. (Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 9)
Among the themes explored during the series of youth conferences held around the world in 2013 and the waves of subsequent gatherings was one specifically related to the potential and characteristics associated with the period of youth.
The following paragraphs have been extracted from the materials studied by the conferences’ participants on this subject.
The youth conferences gather young people of different ages and experiences. Many are teenagers who, through school, family, and community life, are preparing for the duties of adulthood. Others are older youth who may be in college or working, married or in the process of starting a family. For some, social conditions may have thrust on them duties of a much older age, and the survival of their families may already depend on them. Equally diverse are the communities they come from, ranging from the small villages of the world to the neighbourhoods of large urban centres with millions of inhabitants.
Regardless of their social situations, young people aspire for spiritual and intellectual growth and “to make a contribution to the fortunes of humanity”. They have many wonderful powers, and channelling them properly is an important concern, for when misdirected or manipulated by others, they can cause much social distress. Among the youth of the world are those alive to Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a spiritually and materially prosperous world.
In selfless service to society is the possibility for both personal growth and enhancing capacity to contribute to social progress. “Service to humanity is service to God”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has stressed. Through directing their talents and abilities to the elevation of society, they “become the cause of the tranquillity of the world of creation”. As they infuse their day-to-day activities with a spirit of generous giving, and offer voluntary acts for the well-being of others, they attract the assistance and confirmations of God.
It is essential then that ever-growing numbers of those in the prime of their lives “steel themselves for a life of service” to society. Naturally, many matters occupy their time and energy: education, work, leisure, spiritual life, physical health. But they learn to avoid a fragmented approach to life that fails to see the connections among life’s various aspects. Such a disjointed view of life often makes individuals fall victim to the false choices suggested in questions such as whether one should study or serve, advance materially or contribute to the betterment of others, pursue work or become dedicated to service. Failure to approach one’s life as a coherent whole often breeds anxiety and confusion. Through service, young people can learn to foster a life in which its various aspects complement each other.
Assured of God’s unfailing blessings to those who arise to serve, youth look at the environments in which they interact with others—the family, the peer group, the school, the work place, the media, the community—and recognize the social forces that operate in them. Some of these forces, such as love for truth, thirst for knowledge, and attraction to beauty, impel them in their progress along a path of service. Other forces, for instance the spreading materialism and self-centredness, are destructive and by distorting young people’s view of the world impede individual and collective growth. As they advance in their endeavours to contribute to the construction of a better world, their capacity to draw on the spiritual and social forces that make them builders of civilization grows manifoldly. http://www.bahai.org/action/youth/period-youth
Twofold Moral Purpose:
The developments we have mentioned thus far—the rise in capacity to teach the Faith directly and to enter into purposeful discussion on themes of spiritual import with people from every walk of life, the efflorescence of an approach to study of the writings that is wedded to action, the renewal of commitment to provide spiritual education to the young in neighbourhoods and villages on a regular basis, and the spread in influence of a programme that instils in junior youth the sense of a twofold moral purpose, to develop their inherent potentialities and to contribute to the transformation of society—are all reinforced, in no small measure, by yet another advance at the level of culture, the implications of which are far-reaching indeed. (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2010)
This dual transformation will only occur through conscious effort, and it is essential that young people realize its implications for their lives and become endowed with a strong sense of purpose, both to take charge of their own personal growth and to contribute to the transformation of society. Such a twofold moral purpose will naturally find expression in a life of service. (Ruhi Book 5, Unit 1, p. 18)
We have talked about a twofold sense of purpose that impels individuals to take charge of their own spiritual and intellectual growth and contribute to the welfare of society. We have seen how this twofold sense of purpose, so necessary for young people today, is strengthened by an understanding of the nature and the magnitude of the transformation in the individual and in society envisioned in the Writings. What we also need to realize is that these two processes of change are intimately linked. Developing one’s potential and working for the welfare of society cannot be separated, for a person’s moral standards and behavior shape his or her environment and in turn are molded by the structure of society. (Ruhi Book 5, Unit 1, p. 27)
Every individual is a member of the human family and makes a contribution to the life of society. The individual takes initiative, seizes opportunities, forms friendships and builds relationships, joins with others in common service, and acts on decisions. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote:
And the honor and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world’s multitudes should become a source of social good. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 2)
In order to act effectively during the present period of transition in human history, individuals must, above all, be imbued with a strong sense of purpose that impels them both to pursue their own spiritual and intellectual growth and to contribute to the transformation of society. These are fundamentally inseparable dimensions of a single process, for the standards and behaviours of individuals shape their environment and, in turn, are moulded by social structures and processes.
On a personal level, the sense of purpose is expressed by developing—in service to humanity—the vast potentialities with which we have been endowed by God. These potentialities include the virtues and qualities latent in all human beings, and the talents and characteristics which are particular to each individual. Bahá’u’lláh wrote:
The Purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, in revealing Himself unto men is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden within the mine of their true and inmost selves. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 287)
In the context of the transformation of society, our purpose is to help carry forward an ever-advancing civilization, devoting our energy and abilities to promote the welfare of the human race. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said:
Think ye at all times of rendering some service to every member of the human race . . . Let him do some good to every person whose path he crosseth, and be of some benefit to him. Let him improve the character of each and all, and reorient the minds of men. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 3)
We pursue this two-fold moral purpose propelled by the conviction we are members of one human family. This enables us to feel as one part in an organic whole and frees us from the bigotry, prejudice, fanaticism, and superstition that can cripple collective action and frustrate positive impulses towards change.
The standard that Bahá’u’lláh envisages for the individual who can effectively play his or her part in actively assisting society to achieve lasting material and spiritual prosperity is high indeed. Yet perfection is not a requirement; what is required of us is a sincere daily effort to move towards this high standard. We are asked to tread a common path of service—supporting each other and advancing together, with sufficient humility to value the contribution of each person and avoid the pitfalls of self-righteousness. http://www.bahai.org/beliefs/essential-relationships/individual-society/individual
Relationship Between Personal and Social Transformation:
The peoples of the world are fast asleep. Were they to wake from their slumber, they would hasten with eagerness unto God, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. They would cast away everything they possess, be it all the treasures of the earth, that their Lord may remember them to the extent of addressing to them but one word. Such is the instruction given you by Him Who holdeth the knowledge of things hidden, in a Tablet which the eye of creation hath not seen, and which is revealed to none except His own Self, the omnipotent protector of all worlds. So bewildered are they in the drunkenness of their evil desires, that they are powerless to recognize the Lord of all being, Whose voice calleth aloud from every direction: “There is none other God but Me, the Mighty, the All-Wise. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 137-138)
Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 84)
Administrative efficiency and order should always be accompanied by an equal degree of love, of devotion and of spiritual development. Both of them are essential and to attempt to dissociate one from the other is to deaden the body of the cause. In these days, when the Faith is still in its infancy, great care must be taken lest mere administrative routine stifles the spirit which must feel the body of the Administration itself. That spirit is its propelling force and the motivating power of its every life. But as already emphasized, both the spirit and the form, are essential to the safe and speedy development of the Administration. To maintain full balance between them is the main and unique responsibility of the administrators of the Cause. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 35)
The greatest need of all peoples is for the Faith itself, so that they may know the destiny towards which they as individuals and as members of society must strive, and will learn from the teachings those virtues and methods which will enable them to work together in harmony, forbearance and trustworthiness. The principle remains, however, that the spiritual precedes the material. First comes the illumination of hearts and minds by the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, and then the grass roots stirring of the believers wishing to apply these teachings to the daily life of their community. Such stirrings can be fostered, encouraged and assisted by the national and continental institutions of the Faith, but without them any activities introduced from above might well prove abortive. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 552)
As you well understand, not only the right but also the responsibility of each believer to explore truth for himself or herself are fundamental to the Bahá’í teachings. This principle is an integral feature of the coming of age of humankind, inseparable from the social transformation to which Bahá’u’lláh is calling the peoples of the world. It is as relevant to specifically scholarly activity as it is to the rest of spiritual and intellectual life. Every human being is ultimately responsible to God for the use which he or she makes of these possibilities; conscience is never to be coerced, whether by other individuals or institutions. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)
For the vast majority of the Bahá’ís in the world today, many of whom are the first in their families to become Bahá’ís, the values and habits they have been brought up with are not easy to shake. But by becoming Bahá’ís they commit themselves to a process of individual and social transformation, based on the fundamental reality of this age: the oneness of humanity. The equality of men and women is one important aspect of this principle. Thus the entire Bahá’í community is engaged in a shared struggle to overcome a variety of traditional prejudices, and its members are assisted in this struggle by the Bahá’í administrative institutions. (Baha’i International Community, 1995 Aug 26, Status of Women in Bahá’í Community)
From the earliest times, religion has been a powerful force for personal and social transformation. In both the lives of individual believers, and in the distinctive communities it has spawned, the Bahá’í Faith is a dramatic illustration of this rule. (Baha’i International Community, 1992, Magazine – The Baha’is)
We are living today in a unique period in history. As humanity emerges from childhood and approaches its collective maturity, the need for a new understanding of the relationships between the individual, the community, and the institutions of society becomes ever more pressing. The interdependence of these three protagonists in the advancement of civilization has to be recognized and old paradigms of conflict, in which, for example, institutions demand submission while individuals clamour for freedom, need to be replaced with more profound conceptions of the complementary roles to be played by each in building a better world. To accept that the individual, the community, and the institutions of society are the protagonists of civilization building, and to act accordingly, opens up great possibilities for human happiness and allows for the creation of environments in which the true powers of the human spirit can be released. http://www.bahai.org/beliefs/essential-relationships/individual-society/
Constructive and Destructive Forces Operating in Society:
The days when idle worship was deemed sufficient are ended. The time is come when naught but the purest motive, supported by deeds of stainless purity, can ascend to the throne of the Most High and be acceptable unto Him. (The Bab, The Declaration of the Bab, p. 21)
Though the forces of the nations be arrayed against Him, though the kings of the earth be leagued to undermine His Cause, the power of His might shall stand unshaken. He, verily, speaketh the truth, and summoneth all mankind to the way of Him Who is the Incomparable, the All-Knowing. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 214)
The chosen ones of God… should not look at the depraved conditions of the society in which they live, nor at the evidences of moral degradation and frivolous conduct which the people around them display. They should not content themselves merely with relative distinction and excellence. Rather they should fix their gaze upon nobler heights by setting the counsels and exhortations of the pen of Glory as their supreme goal. Then it will be readily realized how numerous are the stages that still remain to be traversed and how far off the desired goal lies — a goal which is none other than exemplifying heavenly morals and virtues. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 136-137)
A twofold process, however, can be distinguished, each tending, in its own way and with an accelerated momentum, to bring to a climax the forces that are transforming the face of our planet. The first is essentially an integrating process, while the second is fundamentally disruptive. The former, as it steadily evolves, unfolds a System which may well serve as a pattern for that world polity towards which a strangely-disordered world is continually advancing; while the latter, as its disintegrating influence deepens, tends to tear down, with increasing violence, the antiquated barriers that seek to block humanity’s progress towards its destined goal. The constructive process stands associated with the nascent Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, and is the harbinger of the New World Order that Faith must erelong establish. The destructive forces that characterize the other should be identified with a civilization that has refused to answer to the expectation of a new age, and is consequently falling into chaos and decline. (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 170)
Every discerning eye clearly sees that the early stages of this chaos have daily manifestations affecting the structure of human society; its destructive forces are uprooting time-honoured institutions which were a heaven and refuge for the inhabitants of the earth in bygone days and centuries and around which revolved all human affairs. The same destructive forces are also deranging the political, economic, scientific, literary, and moral equilibrium of the world and are destroying the fairest fruits of the present civilization. Political machinations of those in authority have placed the seal of obsolescence upon the root- principles of the world’s order. Greed and passion, deceit, hypocrisy, tyranny, and pride are dominating features afflicting human relations. Discoveries and inventions, which are the fruit of scientific and technological advancements, have become the means and tools of mass extermination and destruction and are in the hands of the ungodly. Even music, art, and literature, which are to represent and inspire the noblest sentiments and highest aspirations and should be a source of comfort and tranquility for troubled souls have strayed from the straight path and are now the mirrors of the soiled hearts of this confused unprincipled and disordered age. Perversions such as these shall result in the ordeals which have been prophesied by the Blessed Beauty in the following words: ‘Every day a new calamity will seize the earth and a fresh tormenting trial will appear’. “the day is approaching when its (civilization’s) flame will devour the cities.
In such an afflicted time when mankind is bewildered and wisest of men are perplexed as to the remedy, the people of Baha who have confidence in His unfailing Grace and Divine Guidance are assured that each of these tormenting trials has a cause, a purpose, and a definite result and all are essential instrument for the establishment of immutable Will of God on earth. In other worlds on the one hand humanity is struck by the scourge of His chastisement which will inevitably bring together the scattered and vanquished tribes of the earth; and on the other, the weak few whom He has nurtured under the protection of his loving guidance are, in this formative age and period of transition, continuing to build amidst these tumultuous waves an impregnable stronghold which will be the sole remaining refuge for those lost multitudes. Therefore, the dear friends of God who have such a broad and clear vision before them are not perturbed by such events, nor are they panic- stricken by such thundering sounds, nor will they face such convulsions with fear and trepidation, nor will they be deterred, even for a moment, from fulfilling their sacred responsibilities. “One of their sacred responsibilities is to exemplify in their lives those attributes which are acceptable at His Sacred Threshold. (Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of Iran, Lights of Guidance, p. 126)
The rapid spread of the programme for the spiritual empowerment of junior youth is yet another expression of cultural advance in the Bahá’í community. While global trends project an image of this age group as problematic, lost in the throes of tumultuous physical and emotional change, unresponsive and self-consumed, the Bahá’í community—in the language it employs and the approaches it adopts—is moving decidedly in the opposite direction, seeing in junior youth instead altruism, an acute sense of justice, eagerness to learn about the universe and a desire to contribute to the construction of a better world. Account after account, in which junior youth in countries all over the planet give voice to their thoughts as participants in the programme, testifies to the validity of this vision. There is every indication that the programme engages their expanding consciousness in an exploration of reality that helps them to analyse the constructive and destructive forces operating in society and to recognize the influence these forces exert on their thoughts and actions, sharpening their spiritual perception, enhancing their powers of expression and reinforcing moral structures that will serve them throughout their lives. At an age when burgeoning intellectual, spiritual and physical powers become accessible to them, they are being given the tools needed to combat the forces that would rob them of their true identity as noble beings and to work for the common good. (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)
Youth also support each other in this regard, coming together in groups to engage in further study and discuss their service, to reinforce one another’s efforts and build resolve, looking to ever extend the circle of friendship more widely. The encouragement offered in this way by a network of peers provides young people with a much-needed alternative to those siren voices that beckon towards the snares of consumerism and compulsive distractions, as well as a counter to the calls to demonize others. It is against this backdrop of enervating materialism and splintering societies that the junior youth programme reveals its particular value at this time. It offers the youth an ideal arena in which to assist those younger than themselves to withstand the corrosive forces that especially target them. (Universal House of Justice, To the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 29 December 2015)
Indeed, as the believers play their part in the propagation and consolidation of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh, God provides the means for its progress and eventual establishment as a world religion for all mankind. Both the constructive and destructive forces in the world assist in its promotion. The process of the breaking up of the old order is in itself a positive step, paving the way for the spreading of the new.
On the other hand, through the transforming power of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, God is creating a new race of men who arise to champion His Cause. Through the sacrificial outpourings of their substance and resources, they attract the spiritual forces which together with all the material aids sent down by Providence, propel the Cause of God forward. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, v. 3, chapter 7, p. 140)
Material and Spiritual Progress:
If a man is successful in his business, art, or profession he is thereby enabled to increase his physical wellbeing and to give his body the amount of ease and comfort in which it delights. All around us today we see how man surrounds himself with every modern convenience and luxury, and denies nothing to the physical and material side of his nature. But, take heed, lest in thinking too earnestly of the things of the body you forget the things of the soul: for material advantages do not elevate the spirit of a man. Perfection in worldly things is a joy to the body of a man but in no wise does it glorify his soul. It may be that a man who has every material benefit, and who lives surrounded by all the greatest comfort modern civilization can give him, is denied the all important gift of the Holy Spirit. It is indeed a good and praiseworthy thing to progress materially, but in so doing, let us not neglect the more important spiritual progress, and close our eyes to the Divine light shining in our midst. Only by improving spiritually as well as materially can we make any real progress, and become perfect beings. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 63)
I want to make you understand that material progress and spiritual progress are two very different things, and that only if material progress goes hand in hand with spirituality can any real progress come about, and the Most Great Peace reign in the world. If men followed the Holy Counsels and the Teachings of the Prophets, if Divine Light shone in all hearts and men were really religious, we should soon see peace on earth and the Kingdom of God among men. The laws of God may be likened unto the soul and material progress unto the body. If the body was not animated by the soul, it would cease to exist. It is my earnest prayer that spirituality may ever grow and increase in the world, so that customs may become enlightened and peace and concord may be established. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 107-108)
It is my hope that these revered people present may attain both material and spiritual progress. As they have advanced wonderfully in material degrees, so may they, likewise, advance in spiritual development until the body shall become refined and beautiful through the wealth of spiritual potentiality and efficiency. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 104)
No matter how far the material world advances, it cannot establish the happiness of mankind. Only when material and spiritual civilization are linked and coordinated will happiness be assured. Then material civilization will not contribute its energies to the forces of evil in destroying the oneness of humanity, for in material civilization good and evil advance together and maintain the same pace. For example, consider the material progress of man in the last decade. Schools and colleges, hospitals, philanthropic institutions, scientific academies and temples of philosophy have been founded, but hand in hand with these evidences of development, the invention and production of means and weapons for human destruction have correspondingly increased. In early days the weapon of war was the sword; now it is the magazine rifle. Among the ancients, men fought with javelins and daggers; now they employ shells and bombs. Dreadnoughts are built, torpedoes invented, and every few days new ammunition is forthcoming.
All this is the outcome of material civilization; therefore, although material advancement furthers good purposes in life, at the same time it serves evil ends. The divine civilization is good because it cultivates morals. Consider what the Prophets of God have contributed to human morality. Jesus Christ summoned all to the Most Great Peace through the acquisition of pure morals. If the moral precepts and foundations of divine civilization become united with the material advancement of man, there is no doubt that the happiness of the human world will be attained and that from every direction the glad tidings of peace upon earth will be announced. Then humankind will achieve extraordinary progress, the sphere of human intelligence will be immeasurably enlarged, wonderful inventions will appear, and the spirit of God will reveal itself; all men will consort in joy and fragrance, and eternal life will be conferred upon the children of the Kingdom. Then will the power of the divine make itself effective and the breath of the Holy Spirit penetrate the essence of all things. Therefore, the material and the divine, or merciful, civilizations must progress together until the highest aspirations and desires of humanity shall become realized. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 109-110)
Material civilization is like a lamp-glass. Divine civilization is the lamp itself and the glass without the light is dark. Material civilization is like the body. No matter how infinitely graceful, elegant and beautiful it may be, it is dead. Divine civilization is like the spirit, and the body gets its life from the spirit, otherwise it becomes a corpse. It has thus been made evident that the world of mankind is in need of the breaths of the Holy Spirit. Without the spirit the world of mankind is lifeless, and without this light the world of mankind is in utter darkness. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 303)
It is to be expected, however, that the multiplication of these core activities would soon be sustained by human resources indigenous to the neighbourhood or village itself—by men and women eager to improve material and spiritual conditions in their surroundings. A rhythm of community life should gradually emerge, then, commensurate with the capacity of an expanding nucleus of individuals committed to Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a new World Order. (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2010)
At this crucial point in the unfoldment of the Plan, when so many clusters are nearing such a stage, it seems appropriate that the friends everywhere would reflect on the nature of the contributions which their growing, vibrant communities will make to the material and spiritual progress of society. In this respect, it will prove fruitful to think in terms of two interconnected, mutually reinforcing areas of activity: involvement in social action and participation in the prevalent discourses of society. (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2010)
That the world civilization now on humanity’s horizon must achieve a dynamic coherence between the material and spiritual requirements of life is central to the Bahá’í teachings. (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2010)
Social action, it has been suggested in this paper, is to be carried out in the context of a much larger enterprise—namely, the advancement of a civilization that ensures the material and spiritual prosperity of the entire human race. The fundamental teachings of the Faith that will inspire this civilization, some of which have been mentioned in these pages, need to find expression in the sphere of social action. Clearly, the application of the requisite principles to the social and material progress of communities involves a vast process of learning. (Universal House of Justice, to all National Spiritual Assemblies, 26 November 2012)
Service to the Community:
That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 250)
The administrative model conceived by Bahá’u’lláh promotes a concept of leadership embodying trustworthiness, wisdom, and willingness to sacrifice for the common good, and whose highest expression is service to the community. It also fosters collective decision making and collective action through a process called “consultation.” Conducted in a spirit of unity, its purpose is to search out the truth. Those engaged in the process are enjoined to express their views with “all freedom,” but at the same time “with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity, care, and moderation. (Abdu’l-Bahá, cited in Consultation: A Compilation (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980), #10, p. 6.)
Bahá’u’lláh’s solution of the social question provides for new laws, but the different social classes are preserved. An artisan remains an artisan; a merchant, a merchant; a banker, a banker; a ruler, a ruler; the different degrees must persist, so that each can render service to the community. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 83-84)
While it is the wish of the House of Justice to see social and economic development become a part of the life of Bahá’í communities, great care should be exercised that our limited efforts are directed to projects whose primary objective is not business but service to the community. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, no. 1874)
For the prompt achievement of all the goals and the healthy growth of Bahá’í community life National Spiritual Assemblies must pay particular attention to the efficient functioning, in the true spirit of the Faith, of their national committees and other auxiliary institutions, and, in consultation with the Continental Boards of Counsellors, must conceive and implement programmes that will guide and reinforce the efforts of the friends in the path of service. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 406)
Although the time has not come for the building of local Mashriqu’l-Adhkars, the holding of regular meetings for worship open to all and the involvement of Bahá’í communities in projects of humanitarian service are expressions of this element of Bahá’í life and a further step in the implementation of the Law of God. (The Universal House of Justice, 1999 Dec 28, Further Application of Devotional Laws)
Acceptance of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings implies a commitment on the part of the individual to strive for one’s own spiritual development, to participate in the construction of a vibrant community, and to contribute to the common good. The collective undertakings of the Bahá’í community include the management of affairs related to personal status; the conduct of the Nineteen Day Feast and other Bahá’í gatherings; the education of children, youth and adults in spiritual and social matters, as well as in the arts and sciences; and the creation of an environment among its members that encourages mutual support in the pursuit of such activities and in service to the wider society. (Universal House of Justice, to the Believers in the Cradle of the Faith, 26 March 2009)
Educating Younger Generations:
In this New Cycle, education and training are recorded in the Book of God as obligatory and not voluntary. That is, it is enjoined upon the father and mother, as a duty, to strive with all effort to train the daughter and the son, to nurse them from the breast of knowledge and to rear them in the bosom of sciences and arts. Should they neglect this matter, they shall be held responsible and worthy of reproach in the presence of the stern Lord. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 398-399)
It is incumbent upon that Spiritual Assembly, that assemblage of God, to exert every effort to educate the children, so that from infancy they will be trained in Bahá’í conduct and the ways of God, and will, even as young plants, thrive and flourish in the soft-flowing waters that are the counsels and admonitions of the Blessed Beauty. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 265)
Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children, young plants of the Abhá Paradise, so that these children, fostered by grace in the way of salvation, growing like pearls of divine bounty in the shell of education, will one day bejewel the crown of abiding glory. It is, however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it. I hope that thou wilt acquit thyself well in this most important of tasks, and successfully carry the day, and become an ensign of God’s abounding grace; that these children, reared one and all in the holy Teachings, will develop natures like unto the sweet airs that blow across the gardens of the All-Glorious, and will waft their fragrance around the world. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 133-134)
Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future. They bear the seeds of the character of future society which is largely shaped by what the adults constituting the community do or fail to do with respect to children. They are a trust no community can neglect with impunity. An all-embracing love of children, the manner of treating them, the quality of the attention shown them, the spirit of adult behavior toward them–these are all among the vital aspects of the requisite attitude. Love demands discipline, the courage to accustom children to hardship, not to indulge their whims or leave them entirely to their own devices. An atmosphere needs to be maintained in which children feel that they belong to the community and share in its purpose. They must lovingly but insistently be guided to live up to Bahá’í standards, to study and teach the Cause in ways that are suited to their circumstances. (Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the World, Ridván 2000)
Our children need to be nurtured spiritually and to be integrated into the life of the Cause. They should not be left to drift in a world so laden with moral dangers… (Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the World, Ridván 2000)
The Baha’i community has labored assiduously within the framework of the global Plans issued by the House of Justice and has succeeded in establishing a pattern of Bahá’í life that promotes the spiritual development of the individual and channels the collective energies of its members towards the spiritual revival of society…It has devised programs for the spiritual and moral education of its younger members and has extended them not only to its own children and junior youth but also to those of the wider community.’ (Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2006, To the Bahá’ís of the World)
Let them never forget the imperative to tend to the needs of the children of the world and offer them lessons that develop their spiritual faculties and lay the foundations of a noble and upright character. (Universal House of Justice, 20 October 2008, to the Bahá’ís of the World)
It should also be realized that a child, from early life, is a conscious and thinking soul, a member of his family with his own duties towards it, and is able to make his own sacrifices for the Faith in many ways. It is suggested that the children should be made to feel that they are given the privilege and opportunity of participating in the decisions as to the services their parents are able to offer, thus making their own conscious decision to accept those services with consequence for their own lives. Indeed, the children can be led to realize that it is the earnest wish of their parents to undertake such services with their children’s whole-hearted support. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 231-232)
Early Adolescence as a Critical Stage of Life:
Among the young ones in the community are those known as junior youth, who… represent a special group with special needs as they are somewhat in between childhood and youth when many changes are occurring within them. Creative attention must be devoted to involving them in programs of activity that will engage their interests, mold their capacities for teaching and service, and involve them in social interaction with older youth. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2000, p. 8)
Whatever the nature of the cluster, it is imperative to pay close attention to children and junior youth everywhere. Concern for the moral and spiritual education of young people is asserting itself forcefully on the consciousness of humanity, and no attempt at community building can afford to ignore it. What has become especially apparent during the current Five Year Plan is the efficacy of educational programmes aimed at the spiritual empowerment of junior youth. When accompanied for three years through a programme that enhances their spiritual perception, and encouraged to enter the main sequence of institute courses at the age of fifteen, they represent a vast reservoir of energy and talent that can be devoted to the advancement of spiritual and material civilization. (Universal House of Justice, 27 December 2005 to the Continental Boards of Counsellors)
Let them come to realize the full significance of their efforts to help young people form a strong moral identity in their early adolescent years and empower them to contribute to the well-being of their communities. (Universal House of Justice, 20 October 2008, to the Bahá’ís of the World)
Countless parents yearn for the means of developing their children’s spiritual faculties that would lay within them the foundations of a principled and upright character. And surely every young person will flourish in a programme that helps to form a strong moral identity in the critical years of early adolescence and empowers participants to contribute to the well-being of society. (Universal House of Justice, letter to Youth Conference in UK, 1 January 2010)
This bright period of youth you share is experienced by all—but it is brief, and buffeted by numerous social forces…With this in mind, we are delighted that so many of you are already engaged in service by conducting community-building activities, as well as by organizing, coordinating, or otherwise administering the efforts of others; in all of these endeavours you are taking an increasing level of responsibility upon your shoulders. Not surprisingly, it is your age group that is gaining the most experience at aiding junior youth, and children too, with their moral and spiritual development, fostering in them capacity for collective service and true friendship. After all, aware of the world which these young souls will need to navigate, with its pitfalls and also its opportunities, you readily appreciate the importance of spiritual strengthening and preparation. Conscious, as you are, that Bahá’u’lláh came to transform both the inner life and external conditions of humanity, you are assisting those younger than yourselves to refine their characters and prepare to assume responsibility for the well-being of their communities. As they enter adolescence, you are helping them to enhance their power of expression, as well as enabling a strong moral sensibility to take root within them. In so doing, your own sense of purpose is becoming more clearly defined as you heed Bahá’u’lláh’s injunction: “Let deeds, not words, be your adorning. (Universal House of Justice, to the participants in the forthcoming 114 youth conferences throughout the world, 1 July 2013)
The Institute Process and the Educational Process it Promotes:
Institutes, however, ought to take care, lest they begin to perceive their work as training in techniques, losing sight of the conception of capacity building at the heart of the institute process that entails a profound understanding of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation…the lessons prepared by the Ruhi Institute would constitute the core of a programme for the spiritual education of children, around which secondary elements could be organized… It is assumed that, if found to be appropriate, any additional items would be selected from resources readily available. There will seldom be cause to formalize the use of such items, whether directly through their adoption by training institutes or indirectly through their widespread systematic promotion.
In the case of junior youth groups, a similar approach is encouraged by the Office of Social and Economic Development. The core of the programme consists of a series of textbooks studied by the groups. We understand that, at present, seven of a projected eighteen textbooks, exploring a range of themes from a Bahá’í perspective, though not in the mode of religious instruction, are available. These form the major component of a three-year programme. Another nine textbooks will provide a distinctly Bahá’í component, and two of these are currently in use. Animators are advised to complement study with artistic activities and service projects. As with children’s class teachers, the institute coordinator at the cluster level can offer animators assistance in determining how to proceed. Yet, most often, such projects and activities are selected by the junior youth themselves, in light of their own circumstances and inclinations, in consultation with the group’s animator…
An educational process should, for example, create in a child awareness of his or her potentialities, but the glorification of self has to be scrupulously avoided. So often in the name of building confidence the ego is bolstered. Similarly, play has its place in the education of the young. Children and junior youth, however, have proven time and again their capacity to engage in discussions on abstract subjects, undertaken at a level appropriate to their age, and derive great joy from the serious pursuit of understanding. An educational process that dilutes content in a mesmerizing sea of entertainment does them no service. We trust that, in studying the institute courses, teachers and animators will find themselves increasingly equipped to make judicious decisions in selecting any materials or activities necessary, whether from traditional educational sources or from the wealth of items, such as songs, stories, and games, that are sure to be developed for the young in the Bahá’í community in the years to come. (Universal House of Justice, to all National Spiritual Assemblies, 12 December 2011)
Foremost among these conditions is an institute process gaining in strength, given its centrality to fostering the movement of populations. The friends who have begun studying institute materials, and are also investing their energies in organizing children’s classes, junior youth groups, gatherings for collective worship, or other related activities, are being assisted to proceed further through the sequence of courses, while the number of those starting their study continues to rise. With the flow of participants through institute courses and into the field of action being maintained, the company of those who are sustaining the growth process expands. (Universal House of Justice, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 29 December 2015)
Clearly, the institute process raises capacity for a broad range of undertakings; from the earliest courses, participants are encouraged to visit their friends at their homes and study a prayer together or share with them a theme from the Bahá’í teachings. Arrangements for supporting the friends in these endeavours, which may have been largely informal, eventually prove inadequate, signalling the need for an Area Teaching Committee to appear. Its principal focus is the mobilization of individuals, often through the formation of teams, for the continued spread of the pattern of activity in a cluster. Its members come to see everyone as a potential collaborator in a collective enterprise, and they appreciate their own part in nurturing a spirit of common purpose in the community. With a Committee in place, the efforts already under way to convene gatherings for worship, to carry out home visits, and to teach the Faith can now expand considerably. You will need to encourage National Spiritual Assemblies and Regional Bahá’í Councils, as much as training institutes, to remain alert to when conditions in a cluster call for organizational arrangements to assume a definite shape—neither acting prematurely nor unduly delaying the appearance of formal structures. (Universal House of Justice, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 29 December 2015)
What is clear, then, is that as the institute process in a cluster gains momentum, the act of teaching comes to assume greater prominence in the lives of the friends. (Universal House of Justice, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 29 December 2015)
At the same time, experience indicates that, for growth to accelerate through a steady flow of new participants entering the institute process, more is required. The pattern of community life has to be developed in places where receptivity wells up, those small centres of population where intense activity can be sustained. It is here, when carrying out the work of community building within such a narrow compass, that the interlocking dimensions of community life are most coherently expressed, here that the process of collective transformation is most keenly felt—here that, in time, the society-building power inherent in the Faith becomes most visible. (Universal House of Justice, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 29 December 2015)
As the growth process continues to gain intensity, the friends’ efforts to engage in meaningful conversations bring them into many social spaces, allowing a wider array of people to become familiar with the teachings and consider seriously the contribution they can make to the betterment of society. In addition, more and more homes are provided as venues for community-building activities, making each a point for the diffusion of the light of divine guidance. The institute process comes to be supported by a growing number of friends serving capably as tutors who, cycle after cycle, offer the full sequence of institute courses between them, at times with marked intensity. Thus, human resource development proceeds with minimal interruption and generates a constantly expanding pool of workers. While it continues to draw on a diverse range of the cluster’s inhabitants, those taking its courses in the greatest numbers are often the youth. The transformative effect of studying the Word of God is experienced by the many whose lives are touched in some way by the community’s activities. And as the flow of people beginning a path of service swells, considerable progress is made in all aspects of the community-building efforts of the friends. Animators of junior youth groups and teachers of children’s classes multiply in number, fuelling an expansion of these two vital programmes. Children are enabled to move from one grade of the classes to another, while groups of junior youth progress from year to year and ground their learning in service to society. Cluster agencies, bolstered by the support of Local Spiritual Assemblies, encourage and foster the natural passage of participants from one stage of the educational process to the next. An educational system with all its component elements, capable of expanding to welcome large numbers, is now firmly rooted within the cluster. (Universal House of Justice, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 29 December 2015)
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