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NB.  The notes that follow were all synthesized from a Study Document used at a meeting for Assistants, which was a compilation of quotes from letters of the House of Justice.  If you want a list of references, please let me know.

Introduction

The three “intimately connected participants” in the “evolution of the new World Order”  include:

  • the individual
  • the institutions
  • the community

Throughout human history, interactions among these three have been fraught with difficulties at every turn, with the

  • individual clamouring for freedom
  • the institution demanding submission
  • the community claiming precedence

In the past they’ve been unwilling to act as interdependent parts of an organic whole, and as a result they were locked in a struggle for power which ultimately proved futile.  Now these three participants “are being shaped under the direct influence of Baha’u’llah’s  Revelation”

Relationships among the three participants are characterised by

  • cooperation
  • reciprocity

and are manifestations of the interconnectedness that governs the universe

The relationships binding these three are marked by

  • tender affection
  • mutual support

Under the influence of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, the relationships among these three are being endowed with

  • new warmth
  • new life

In aggregate, they constitute a matrix within which a world spiritual civilization, bearing the imprint of divine inspiration, gradually matures.

The Bahá’í community is engaged in an immense historical process that is entering a critical stage.

Strengthening our understanding of the nature of each of the three participants in the Divine Plan and the relationships that inseparably bind them helps us to work in a clear and methodical manner in order to strengthen the various lines of action.

Each of the three participants works to build capacity in the other two; there are, after all, only three participants in all.  Each helps the other.

So let’s look at what the House is teaching us about each of the three.

Individual

Everyday interactions are shaped by consciousness of the oneness of humankind.

Relationships imbued with this consciousness are being cultivated by Bahá’ís and their friends in villages and neighbourhoods across the world

From them can be detected the pure fragrances of

  • reciprocity
  • cooperation
  • concord
  • love

Within such unassuming settings, a visible alternative to society’s familiar strife is emerging

The individual

  • wishes to exercise self-expression responsibly
  • participate thoughtfully in consultation devoted to the common good
  • spurns the temptation to insist on personal opinion

The vitality of the faith of each believer is expressed through

  • personal initiative
  • constancy in teaching the Cause to others
  • provide energy and resources to
  • upbuild the community
  • uphold the authority of its institutions
  • support local and regional plans and teaching projects.

Without the support of the individual, “at once wholehearted, continuous and generous,”

  • every measure and plan of his National Spiritual Assembly is “foredoomed to failure,”
  • the purpose of the Master’s Divine Plan is “impeded”
  • the sustaining strength of Bahá’u’lláh Himself “will be withheld from every and each individual who fails in the long run to arise and play his part.”

Hence, at the very crux of any progress to be made is the individual believer, who possesses the power of execution which only he can release through his own initiative and sustained action.

The individual alone can exercise those capacities which include

  • the ability to take initiative
  • seize opportunities
  • form friendships
  • interact personally with others
  • build relationships
  • win the cooperation of others in common service to the Faith and society
  • convert into action the decisions made by consultative bodies

To optimize the use of these capacities, the individual draws upon

  • his love for Bahá’u’lláh
  • the power of the Covenant
  • the dynamics of prayer
  • the inspiration and education derived from regular reading and study of the Holy Texts
  • the transformative forces that operate upon his soul as he strives to behave in accordance with the divine laws and principles.
  • the capacity to attract particular blessings promised by Bahá’u’lláh

The things that hamper individual initiative include a:

  • sense of inadequacy
  • lack of courage
  • lack of initiative
  • feeling of inferiority which prevents them from addressing the public

The results?  It:

  • paralyses their efforts
  • quenches the flame of faith in their hearts

The solution:

  • regard it as a weaknesses that needs to be overcome
  • realize that every one is able, in his own measure, to deliver the Message
  • use what God has given him

Institutions

When thinking of the institutions we are referring to the intimately connected:

  • Spiritual Assemblies
  • Counsellors, Auxiliary Board members and assistants
  • Regional Councils
  • Area Teaching Committee
  • Institute Boards
  • many coordinators at the regional and cluster level

None of the accomplishments of the individual or the community could be sustained without the guidance, encouragement and support of the institutions of the Faith.

The institutions

  • promote individual initiative
  • channel energies into the teaching field
  • underscore the value of systematic action
  • foster the spiritual life of the community
  • nurture a welcoming environment
  • encourage and support the individual
  • provide a system of education aimed at assisting each person through the training institute
  • exercise authority to guide the friends
  • exert moral, spiritual and intellectual influence on the lives of individuals and communities

A Bahá’í institution, appreciating the need for coordinated action channelled toward fruitful ends, aims not to control or demand submission but to nurture and encourage

Local and national institutions need to “evolve more rapidly into a proper exercise of their responsibilities as

  • channels of guidance
  • planners of the teaching work
  • developers of human resources
  • builders of communities
  • loving shepherds of the multitudes

Institutions need to

  • increase the ability of their members to take counsel together in accordance with the principles of the Faith
  • enhance the individual believers’ capacity to serve the Cause
  • foster unified action
  • consult with the friends under their jurisdiction, through
  • fostering the spirit of service
  • spontaneously collaborating with the Continental Counsellors and their auxiliaries
  • cultivating their external relations

The maturity of the Spiritual Assembly must be measured by

  • the regularity of its meetings
  • the efficiency of its functioning
  • the continuity of the growth of Bahá’í membership
  • the effectiveness of the interaction between the Assembly and the members of its community
  • the quality of the spiritual and social life of the community
  • the overall sense of vitality of a community in the process of dynamic, ever-advancing development
  • support a vibrant educational process
  • organize and maintain a process of developing human resources whereby Baha’is can acquire the knowledge and capacity to sustain a continuous expansion and consolidation of the community

In helping the community to remain focused on the aim of the Plan, they are learning in practical terms what it means to

  • maintain unity of vision among the friends
  • put mechanisms  in place that facilitate their endeavours
  • allocate resources  in accordance with priorities wisely set

One of the signs of the maturation of the institutions is their

  • ability to manage the growing complexity that accompanies increasing numbers of people actively participating in the activities of the community

This calls for a new state of mind on the part of

  • their members
  • those who elect them

The realization of this hope will hinge on the degree to which those who have been called upon to render such service

  • recognize the great privilege that is theirs
  • understand the boundaries which this privilege establishes for them

Service on the institutions and agencies of the Faith is

  • a tremendous privilege, but not one that is sought by the individual
  • a duty and responsibility to which he or she may be called at any given time

It is understandable that all those involved in Bahá’í administration would rightly feel they have been invested with a singular honour in forming part, in whatever way, of a structure designed to be a channel through which the spirit of the Cause flows. Yet they should not imagine that such service entitles them to

  • operate on the periphery of the learning process that is everywhere gaining strength, exempt from its inherent requirements
  • promote one’s own understanding of what is recorded in the Sacred Text and how the teachings should be applied
  • steer the community in whatever direction personal preferences dictate

Referring to members of Spiritual Assemblies, the Guardian wrote that they “must disregard utterly

  • their own likes and dislikes
  • their personal interests and inclinations

Instead they must concentrate their minds upon

  • those measures that will conduce to the welfare and happiness of the Bahá’í Community and promote the common weal

This  implies sacrifice on the part of those entrusted to administer the affairs of the Faith

Bahá’u’lláh has given us institutions to operate in an Order designed to canalize the forces of a new civilization. Progress towards that glorious realization requires a great and continuous expansion of the Bahá’í community, so that adequate scope is provided for the maturation of these institutions.

Progress towards this glorious realization requires a great and continuous expansion of the Bahá’í community, so that adequate scope is provided for the maturation of these institutions.

Community

The community is more than the sum of its membership; it is

  • a comprehensive unit of civilization composed of individuals, families and institutions that are originators and encouragers of
    • systems
    • agencies
    • organizations
    • working together with a common purpose for the welfare of people both within and beyond its own borders
    • a composition of diverse, interacting participants that are achieving unity in an unremitting quest for spiritual and social progress.

Some of the characteristics of a vibrant community would be

  • characterized by tolerance and love
  • guided by a strong sense of purpose and collective will
  • the capacities of all men, women, youth and children are developed and their powers multiplied in unified action

Ours is a community

  • aware of the vast potentialities with which it has been endowed
  • conscious of the role it is destined to play in rebuilding a broken world
  • subject to severe repression in one part of the globe, yet rising up undeterred and undismayed as a united whole
  • strengthening its capacity to achieve Baha’u’llah’s purpose to liberate humankind from the yoke of the most grievous oppression

If the Administrative Order is to serve as a pattern for future society, then the community must

  • acquire capacity to address increasingly complex material and spiritual requirements
  • become larger and larger in size

A small community, whose members are

  • united by their shared beliefs
  • characterized by their high ideals
  • proficient in managing their affairs and tending to their needs
  • engaged in several humanitarian projects
  • prospering but at a comfortable distance from the reality experienced by the masses of humanity

can never hope to serve as a pattern for restructuring the whole of society.

As communities increase in size and gain experience, they

  • refine their ability to read their immediate reality
  • analyze their possibilities
  • apply judiciously the methods and instruments of the Five Year Plan

As a community grows, effort must be made to ensure capacity for learning in the community as a whole is increasing.

The Guardian encouraged us to learn through

  • active
  • whole-hearted
  • continued participation

in community activities.

Bahá’í community life provides us with an indispensable laboratory, where we can translate into living and constructive action the principles which we imbibe from the Teachings.

By becoming a real part of that living organism we can catch the real spirit which runs throughout the Bahá’í Teachings.

Such wholehearted participation in the work of the Faith provides an invaluable context for the exertion made by young and old alike to align their lives with Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings.

The Plan

  • gives direction
  • identifies goals
  • stimulates effort
  • provides a variety of needed facilities and materials to benefit the work of teachers and administrators

The plan is necessary for the proper functioning of the community, but is of no consequence unless its individual members respond through active participation.

Each individual must

  • make a conscious decision as to what he or she will do to serve the Plan
  • decide how, where and when to do it
  • check the progress of his actions
  • modify the steps being taken.

Becoming accustomed to such a procedure of systematic striving lends meaning and fulfilment to the life of any Bahá’í.

The Training Institute

The establishment of training institutes is critical to such effort, since they are centres through which

  • large numbers of individuals can acquire and improve their ability to teach and administer the Faith.

The institute process will

  • strengthen individual initiative
  • strengthen collective volition

Participation in a sequence of courses (Ruhi)

  • builds capacity for service
  • concentrates on the application of the spiritual insights gained through profound study of the Writings

Participants are exposed to a body of knowledge that

  • fosters a set of related habits, attitudes and qualities
  • assists in sharpening certain skills and abilities needed to carry out acts of service.

Discussions that revolve around the Creative Word, in the serious and uplifting atmosphere of a study circle

  • raise the level of consciousness about one’s duties to the Cause
  • create an awareness of the joy one derives from teaching the Faith and serving its interests
  • endows specific deeds with significance
  • confidence is patiently built
  • the friends engage in progressively more complex and demanding acts of service
  • reliance on God sustains them in their endeavours

As individuals progress through institute courses, they

  • deepen their knowledge of the Faith
  • gain insights
  • acquire skills of service
  • have a growing sense of initiative and resourcefulness
  • acquire courage and audacity
  • strengthen qualities such as
    • consecration
    • zeal
    • confidence
    • tenacity
    • enhanced vitality of their faith

So enkindled do their hearts become with the fire of the love of God that

  • whoever approaches them feels its warmth
  • they “strive to be channels of the spirit
  • pure of heart
  • selfless and humble
  • possessing certitude and the courage that stems from reliance on God.

That the spirit of faith born out of intimate contact with the Word of God has such an effect on souls is by no means a new phenomenon.   What is heartening is that the institute process is helping such large numbers experience the transforming potency of the Faith.

A discernible outcome of the emphasis on capacity building has been

  • a steady increase in the exercise of individual initiative
  • disciplined by an understanding of the requirements of systematic action
  • endeavours are pursued in a humble posture of learning within the framework defined by the Plan

As a result, activities

  • give expression to a diversity of talents
  • become harmonized into one forward movement
  • the stagnation caused by endless debate over personal preferences about approach is avoided
  • commitment to long-term action grows

Equipped with skills and methods, effective and accessible to all, and encouraged by the response their actions elicit, the believers are

  • entering into closer association with people of many walks of life
  • engaging them in earnest conversation on themes of spiritual import
  • sense receptivity and recognize thirst for the vivifying waters of Baha’u’llah’s message
  • seek out souls with whom they can share  a portion of that which He has so graciously  bestowed  on humanity

Increased experience enables them to

  • adapt their presentation to the seeker’s needs
  • employ direct teaching methods that draw on the Writings to offer the message in a manner both forthcoming and inviting

In relationships among the friends, then, this development in culture finds expression in the quality of their interactions. Learning as a mode of operation requires that all

  • assume a posture of humility
  • become forgetful of self
  • placing complete trust in God
  • reliant on His all-sustaining power
  • confident in His unfailing assistance
  • knowing that He, and He alone, can change the gnat into an eagle, the drop into a boundless sea.

And in such a state souls

  • labour together ceaselessly
  • delight in the progress and services of others
  • their thoughts are centred at all times on helping one another scale the heights of service to His Cause and soar in the heaven of His knowledge

How abundant the accounts of believers who enter the teaching field with trepidation only to find themselves bolstered by confirmations on all sides.  Seeing the possibilities and opportunities before them with new eyes, they witness firsthand the power of Divine assistance, as they strive to put into practice what they are learning and achieve results far exceeding their expectations.   

Intensive Program of Growth

The steady multiplication of core activities, propelled by the training institute, creates a sustainable pattern of expansion and consolidation that is at once structured and organic.

As seekers join these activities and declare their faith, individual and collective teaching endeavours gather momentum.  Through the effort made to ensure that a percentage of the new believers enrol in the institute courses, the pool of human resources required to carry out the work of the Faith swells.  When strenuously pursued in a cluster, all of this activity eventually brings about conditions favourable for launching an intensive programme of growth.

The coherence thus achieved extends to various aspects of community life.

  • the study and application of the teachings become a pervasive habit
  • the spirit of communal worship generated by devotional meetings begins to permeate the community’s collective endeavours
  • a graceful integration of the arts into diverse activities enhances the surge of energy that mobilizes the believers
  • classes for the spiritual education of children and junior youth serve to strengthen the roots of the Faith in the local population
  • an act of service as simple as visiting the home of a new believer reinforces ties of fellowship that bind the members of the community together
  • home visits are giving rise to an array of deepening  efforts in which the friends are delving into the Writings and exploring their implications for their lives.

The work of building vibrant communities achieving spiritual and material progress would need to be shouldered more and more individuals, many of whom would come from the wider community, “by men and women eager to improve material and spiritual conditions in their surroundings.”

As a program of growth develops

  • the above pattern of action grows in scope and strengthens
  • an emergent community spirit begins to exert its influence on the course of events
  • the spiritual foundations of the community are fortified
  • the level of collective discourse is raised
  • social relations among the friends take on new meaning
  • a sense of common purpose inspires their interactions

The reflection meeting allows those engaged in activities at the cluster level to assemble from time to time

  • to reach consensus on the current status of their situation, in light of experience and guidance from the institutions
  • to determine their immediate steps forward

This combined process of action, learning and training will endow communities with an ever-increasing number of capable and eager teachers of the Cause.

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