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Study Guide to the Ridvan Message 2017

By a Reader of this Blog

Please note:

  • This Study has the paragraphs numbered, 1-4 and the sentences are numbered, highlights, bolding and dot formatting, have been added for the purpose of study and reflection only.
  • Questions have been added for further study and to stimulate thought.
  • When answering questions refer to the sentence number beside the question.

 

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE

Ridván 2017

To the Bahá’ís of the World

Paragraph One

Dearly loved Friends,

  1.  See how the community of the Greatest Name arises!
  2. With but one year elapsed since the inception of the new Plan, reports testify to the
  • scale of what is being attempted and
  • beginning to be accomplished.
  1. Bringing greater intensity to 5,000 programmes of growth is demanding a level of effort quite without precedent.
  2. With a firm grasp of the fundamentals of the Plan, large numbers of the friends

are

  • acting on its requirements,
  • demonstrating rigour and sacrifice in the quality of their response
  1. As envisaged, some intensive programmes of growth that
  • have been long sustained
  • are becoming reservoirs of knowledge and resources,
  • lending support to surrounding areas and
  • facilitating the rapid dissemination of experience and insight.
  1. Centres of intense activity—

those neighbourhoods and villages where the community-building work is most concentrated—

  • are proving to be fertile ground for collective transformation.
  1. An expanded and invigorated legion of Auxiliary Board members and their assistants
  • are

stimulating the endeavours of the believers,

helping them acquire a vision of how to advance the growth process in various

circumstances and

identifying approaches that suit the conditions in each cluster.

  1. Supported by their respective National Spiritual Assemblies, Regional Baha’i

Councils are

  • learning how the momentum of the Plan can be built across a range of clusters

simultaneously,

  • while in some smaller countries without Councils, new entities at the national

level are starting to do the same.

  1. Although, as would be expected of any organic process,
  • the swift progress being witnessed in some places is yet to appear
  • in others, the total number of intensive programmes of growth in the world is already beginning to mount.
  1. Further, we rejoice to see that
  • participation in the activities of the Plan surged markedly during its first four cycles.

Questions for Reflection:

What are the “5,000 programmes of growth” “demanding”?                    (3)

Think about or discuss all the things listed above that are happening in the Baha’i World.

Paragraph Two

  1. The signs could hardly be more promising, then, for what the coming year might bring.
  2. And what could be more fitting to offer the Blessed Beauty on the two hundredth anniversary of His Birth than the earnest striving of His loved ones to extend the reach of His Faith?
  3. The first of the two bicentenaries to be celebrated by the Baha’i world is thus an occasion with prospects most thrilling.
  4. Viewed aright, this year presents the single greatest worldwide opportunity there has ever been for connecting hearts to Baha’u’llah.
  5. In the months ahead,
  • let all be mindful of this precious chance and
  • alert to the possibilities that exist in every space

    for acquainting others with His life and sublime mission.

  1. For the teaching opportunity that is now before the Baha’i world to be seized to its fullest extent, creative thought needs to be given to the conversations that could unfold with every kind of person.
  2. In the course of such meaningful conversations,
  • perception is heightened and
  • hearts are opened—sometimes immediately.
  1. In this worthy occupation all find a calling, and of the joy that comes from being engaged in this work none should deprive themselves.
  2. We entreat the one Beloved that the whole of this bicentennial year may be filled with this joy that is purest and sweetest:

telling another soul of the dawning of the Day of God.

Questions from the Passage:

What does “this year” present?  (14)

“In the months ahead” what should we be “mindful of”?   (15)

“In the months ahead” what should we be “alert to”?   (15)

How can “the Baha’i world” seize “to its fullest extent” the teaching opportunities that are “now before” us?    (16)

What happens “in the course of such meaningful conversations?   (17)

In this worthy “occupation of meaningful conversations” what will we find?  (18)

 

Paragraph Three

  1. The obligations that must be met by the company of the faithful are made the more pressing by the confusion, distrust, and cloudiness in the world.
  2. Indeed, the friends should use every opportunity to
  • shine a light that can illuminate the way and
  • offer assurance to the anxious,
  • hope to the despairing.
  1. We are reminded of the counsel given by the Guardian to one Baha’i community in words that seem intended for our own time:
  2. “As the fabric of present-day society

heaves and cracks under the strain and stress of  portentous events and calamities,

as the fissures, accentuating the cleavage separating nation from nation, class from class,

            race from race, and creed from creed, multiply,

the prosecutors of the Plan must

  • evince a still greater cohesion in their spiritual lives and administrative activities, and
  • demonstrate a higher standard

    of concerted effort,

    of mutual assistance, and

    of harmonious development in their collective enterprises.”

  1. Always emphasizing
  • the spiritual significance of the work of the Faith and
  • the single-minded resolve with which the believers are to discharge their sacred duties,

Shoghi Effendi warned too against having any share in

  • political controversies,
  • entanglements, and
  1. “Let them rise above
  • all particularism and partisanship,”

he urged on another occasion,

  • “above the vain disputes,
  • the petty calculations,
  • the transient passions that agitate the face, and
  • engage the attention, of a changing world.”
  1. These are the inevitable foam and spray cast up as wave after wave convulses a turbulent and divided society.
  2. Too much is at stake to be occupied with distractions of this kind.
  3. As every follower of Baha’u’llah knows well, humanity’s ultimate well-being is dependent upon
  • its differences being transcended and
  • its unity firmly established.
  1. Every contribution Baha’is make to the life of their society is aimed at fostering unity;

every community-building endeavour is directed towards the same end.

  1. For those tired of contention, the communities growing under the shadow of the Greatest Name offer a potent example of what unity can achieve.

Questions for Reflection:

What should the friends ‘use every opportunity to” do?   (21)

Think about or discuss how you can go about achieving the above in our day to day lives.    (21)                        

What has the Guardian said “the prosecutors of the Plan must evince”?     (23)

What has the Guardian said “the prosecutors of the Plan must” …. “demonstrate a higher standard of “?     (23)

What has Shoghi Effendi emphasized?   (24)

What has Shoghi Effendi “warned” us “against having any share in”?    (24)

What 4 things has Shoghi Effendi said we should arise above?   (25)

What does particularism and partisan ship mean?  (see meaning at end of study guide)

Think about and list some of the “vain disputes” we can “rise above”.   (25)

Think about and list some of the “petty calculations” we can “rise above”.   (25)

Think about and list some of the “transient passions that agitate the face, and engage the attention, of a changing world” that we can “rise above”.   (25)

What is “humanity’s ultimate well-being” “dependent upon”?    (28)

What is “every contribution” that Baha’is “make to the life of their society” “aimed at”?    (29)

What is “every community-building endeavour” “directed towards”?  (29)

“For those tired of contention,” what do “the communities growing under the shadow of the Greatest Name offer”?   (30)

Paragraph Four

  1. We render praise to the Lord of Lords at seeing so many of His loved ones, in so many ways, giving their all that the banner of the oneness of humankind may be raised aloft.
  1. Most cherished friends:

As a highly auspicious year now commences, might not each one of us contemplate what heavenly deeds His grace may aid us to perform?

Questions for Reflection:                                    

Make a list of how “each one of us” can “contemplate” the heavenly deeds the grace of Bahá’u’lláh may “aid us to perform” in our day to day lives.  (32)                           

[signed: The Universal House of Justice]

particularism

  • exclusive attachment to one’s own group, party, or nation.
  • the doctrine that some but not all people are elected and redeemed.

partisanship

  • prejudice in favour of a particular cause
  • bias.

Study Guide To The Letter On Economic Life

 

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE

1 March 2017

To the Bahá’ís of the World

Dearly loved Friends,

Paragraph One

In an increasingly interconnected world, more light is being cast on the social conditions of every people, giving greater visibility to their circumstances. While there are developments that give hope, there is much that should weigh heavy on the conscience of the human race. Inequity, discrimination, and exploitation blight the life of humanity, seemingly immune to the treatments applied by political schemes of every hue. The economic impact of these afflictions has resulted in the prolonged suffering of so many, as well as in deep-seated, structural defects in society. No one whose heart has been attracted to the teachings of the Blessed Beauty can remain unmoved by these consequences. “The world is in great turmoil,” Bahá’u’lláh observes in the Lawḥ-i-Dunyá, “and the minds of its people are in a state of utter confusion. We entreat the Almighty that He may graciously illuminate them with the glory of His Justice, and enable them to discover that which will be profitable unto them at all times and under all conditions.” As the Bahá’í community strives to contribute at the level of thought and action to the betterment of the world, the adverse conditions experienced by many populations will more and more demand its attention.

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

Why is more light being cast on the social conditions of every people now?

  • We live in an increasingly interconnected world

What are we seeing as a result?

  • greater visibility to their circumstances.

What should weigh heavily on the conscience of the human race?

  • Inequity
  • Discrimination
  • Exploitation

How are these 3 issues described?

  • a blight on the life of humanity

What do they seem to be immune to?

  • the treatments applied by political schemes of every hue.

What has the economic impact of these afflictions resulted in?

  • the prolonged suffering of so many
  • deep-seated, structural defects in society

How are Bahá’ís being asked to respond?

  • No one can remain unmoved by these consequences

How is the world reacting now?

  • the minds of its people are in a state of utter confusion.

What will help?

  • We entreat the Almighty that He may graciously illuminate them with the glory of His Justice, and
  • enable them to discover that which will be profitable unto them at all times and under all conditions

As the adverse conditions experienced by many populations demands more and more of our attention, how is the Bahá’í community being asked to respond?

  • strive to contribute to the betterment of the world at the level of thought and action

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of an increasingly interconnected world, which gives greater visibility to people’s circumstances?
  1. What political schemes have been tried to address the issues of inequity, discrimination and exploitation, and why didn’t they work?
  1. What are some of the deep-seated structural defects causing an economic impact?
  1. Which prayers would you like to use to beseech God to graciously illuminate them with the glory of His Justice?
  1. When and how will you say them?
  1. How will you know what is profitable to you in any given moment?
  1. What would this look like if we were able to achieve it?
  1. What steps can we as individuals take?
  1. How does what’s being asked of us differ from our own inclinations?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

Paragraph Two

The welfare of any segment of humanity is inextricably bound up with the welfare of the whole. Humanity’s collective life suffers when any one group thinks of its own well-being in isolation from that of its neighbours or pursues economic gain without regard for how the natural environment, which provides sustenance for all, is affected. A stubborn obstruction, then, stands in the way of meaningful social progress: time and again, avarice and self-interest prevail at the expense of the common good. Unconscionable quantities of wealth are being amassed, and the instability this creates is made worse by how income and opportunity are spread so unevenly both between nations and within nations. But it need not be so. However much such conditions are the outcome of history, they do not have to define the future, and even if current approaches to economic life satisfied humanity’s stage of adolescence, they are certainly inadequate for its dawning age of maturity. There is no justification for continuing to perpetuate structures, rules, and systems that manifestly fail to serve the interests of all peoples. The teachings of the Faith leave no room for doubt: there is an inherent moral dimension to the generation, distribution, and utilization of wealth and resources.

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

The welfare of any segment of humanity is inextricably bound up with what?

  • the welfare of the whole.

When any one group thinks of its own well-being how does humanity’s collective life suffer?

  • When it is in isolation from considering the well-being of its neighbours
  • When it pursues economic gain without regard for how the natural environment, which provides sustenance for all, is affected

Which stubborn obstruction stands in the way of meaningful social progress?

  • time and again, avarice and self-interest prevail at the expense of the common good.

What happens when unconscionable quantities of wealth are being amassed?

  • It creates instability

When and how is it made worse?

  • When income and opportunity are spread unevenly both between nations and within nations.

There is no justification for continuing to perpetuate structures, rules, and systems that manifestly fail to serve the interests of all peoples.

The teachings of the Faith leave no room for doubt: there is an inherent moral dimension to the generation, distribution, and utilization of wealth and resources.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What is the inherent moral dimension to the generation, distribution, and utilization of wealth and resources?
  1. What are some examples of income and opportunity being spread unevenly between nations? Within nations?
  1. Even though such conditions are the outcome of history, why don’t they have to define the future?
  1. What are the current approaches to economic life that are satisfying humanity’s stage of adolescence?
  1. Why are these approaches inadequate for humanity’s dawning age of maturity?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

 Paragraph Three

The stresses emerging out of the long-term process of transition from a divided world to a united one are being felt within international relations as much as in the deepening fractures that affect societies large and small. With prevailing modes of thought found to be badly wanting, the world is in desperate need of a shared ethic, a sure framework for addressing the crises that gather like storm clouds. The vision of Bahá’u’lláh challenges many of the assumptions that are allowed to shape contemporary discourse—for instance, that self-interest, far from needing to be restrained, drives prosperity, and that progress depends upon its expression through relentless competition. To view the worth of an individual chiefly in terms of how much one can accumulate and how many goods one can consume relative to others is wholly alien to Bahá’í thought. But neither are the teachings in sympathy with sweeping dismissals of wealth as inherently distasteful or immoral, and asceticism is prohibited. Wealth must serve humanity. Its use must accord with spiritual principles; systems must be created in their light. And, in Bahá’u’lláh’s memorable words, “No light can compare with the light of justice. The establishment of order in the world and the tranquillity of the nations depend upon it.”

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

Where are the stresses emerging out of the long-term process of transition from a divided world to a united one being felt?

  • within international relations
  • in the deepening fractures that affect societies large and small.

What does the world desperately need?

  • a shared ethic
  • a sure framework for addressing the crises that gather like storm clouds.

What assumptions that are allowed to shape contemporary discourse does the vision of Bahá’u’lláh challenge?

  • that self-interest, far from needing to be restrained, drives prosperity
  • that progress depends upon its expression through relentless competition.

What is wholly alien to Bahá’í thought?

  • To view the worth of an individual chiefly in terms of
    • how much one can accumulate
    • how many goods one can consume relative to others.

Do Bahá’ís dismiss wealth as inherently distasteful or immoral?

  • But neither are the teachings in sympathy with sweeping dismissals of wealth as inherently distasteful or immoral, and asceticism is prohibited.

What is the purpose of wealth?

  • Wealth must serve humanity.
  • Its use must accord with spiritual principles
  • systems must be created to align with spiritual principles

What does the establishment of order in the world and the tranquillity of the nations depend on?

  • the light of justice

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What would a shared ethic look like?
  1. What’s an example of a system of wealth aligned with spiritual principles?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

Paragraph Four

Although Bahá’u’lláh does not set out in His Revelation a detailed economic system, a constant theme throughout the entire corpus of His teachings is the reorganization of human society. Consideration of this theme inevitably gives rise to questions of economics. Of course, the future order conceived by Bahá’u’lláh is far beyond anything that can be imagined by the present generation. Nevertheless, its eventual emergence will depend on strenuous effort by His followers to put His teachings into effect today. With this in mind, we hope that the comments below will stimulate thoughtful, ongoing reflection by the friends. The aim is to learn about how to participate in the material affairs of society in a way that is consistent with the divine precepts and how, in practical terms, collective prosperity can be advanced through justice and generosity, collaboration and mutual assistance.

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

What is a constant theme throughout the entire corpus of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings?

  • the reorganization of human society

Consideration of this theme inevitably gives rise to questions of economics. Of course,

What will the future order conceived by Bahá’u’lláh look like?

  • It is far beyond anything that can be imagined by the present generation.

How will it come into being?

  • Its eventual emergence will depend on strenuous effort by His followers to put His teachings into effect today.

What does the House of Justice want us to do with this letter?

  • stimulate thoughtful, ongoing reflection
  • learn how to participate in the material affairs of society in a way that is consistent with the divine precepts

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How can collective prosperity be advanced through justice and generosity, in practical terms?
  1. How can collective prosperity be advanced through collaboration and mutual assistance, in practical terms?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

Paragraph Five

Our call to examine the implications of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh for economic life is intended to reach Bahá’í institutions and communities but is directed more especially to the individual believer. If a new model of community life, patterned on the teachings, is to emerge, must not the company of the faithful demonstrate in their own lives the rectitude of conduct that is one of its most distinguishing features? Every choice a Bahá’í makes—as employee or employer, producer or consumer, borrower or lender, benefactor or beneficiary—leaves a trace, and the moral duty to lead a coherent life demands that one’s economic decisions be in accordance with lofty ideals, that the purity of one’s aims be matched by the purity of one’s actions to fulfil those aims. Naturally, the friends habitually look to the teachings to set the standard to which to aspire. But the community’s deepening engagement with society means that the economic dimension of social existence must receive ever more concentrated attention. Particularly in clusters where the community-building process is beginning to embrace large numbers, the exhortations contained in the Bahá’í Writings should increasingly inform economic relationships within families, neighbourhoods, and peoples. Not content with whatever values prevail in the existing order that surrounds them, the friends everywhere should consider the application of the teachings to their lives and, using the opportunities their circumstances offer them, make their own individual and collective contributions to economic justice and social progress wherever they reside. Such efforts will add to a growing storehouse of knowledge in this regard.

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

Who is their call to examine the implications of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh for economic life intended to reach?

  • Bahá’í institutions and communities
  • more especially to the individual believer

What is needed to bring about a new model of community life, patterned on the teachings?

  • For the Bahá’ís to demonstrate a rectitude of conduct in our own lives

What is the effect of our choices?

  • Every choice a Bahá’í makes leaves a trace

Who does this apply to?

  • employee or employer
  • producer or consumer
  • borrower or lender
  • benefactor or beneficiary

What does our moral duty to lead a coherent life demand from us?

  • that our economic decisions be in accordance with lofty ideals
  • that the purity of our aims be matched by the purity of our actions to fulfil those aims

Where do we find the standard?

  • Naturally, the friends habitually look to the teachings to set the standard to which to aspire

What needs more concentrated attention?

  • the economic dimension of social existence must receive ever more concentrated attention

What’s the reason?

  • the community’s deepening engagement with society

Where should the exhortations contained in the Bahá’í Writings increasingly inform economic relationships within families, neighbourhoods, and peoples?

  • particularly in clusters where the community-building process is beginning to embrace large numbers

What are we being asked to reject?

  • the values that prevail in the existing order that surrounds us

What are we being asked to consider?

  • the application of the teachings to their lives
  • using the opportunities their circumstances offer us, to make both individual and collective contributions to economic justice and social progress wherever we reside

What will be the effect of such efforts?

  • Such efforts will add to a growing storehouse of knowledge in this regard

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How can we demonstrate in our own lives, the rectitude of conduct that is patterned on the teachings?
  1. What would living a coherent life look like?
  1. What opportunities exist in your neighborhood to make an individual contribution to economic justice?
  1. What opportunities exist in your neighborhood to make an individual or collective contribution to social progress?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

Paragraph Six

A foundational concept to explore in this context is the spiritual reality of man. In the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, the nobility inherent to every human being is unequivocally asserted; it is a fundamental tenet of Bahá’í belief, upon which hope for the future of humankind is built. The soul’s capacity to manifest all the names and attributes of God—He Who is the Compassionate, the Bestower, the Bountiful—is repeatedly affirmed in the Writings. Economic life is an arena for the expression of honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, generosity, and other qualities of the spirit. The individual is not merely a self-interested economic unit, striving to claim an ever-greater share of the world’s material resources. “Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue”, Bahá’u’lláh avers, “and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches.” And further: “Dissipate not the wealth of your precious lives in the pursuit of evil and corrupt affection, nor let your endeavours be spent in promoting your personal interest.” By consecrating oneself to the service of others, one finds meaning and purpose in life and contributes to the upliftment of society itself. At the outset of His celebrated treatise The Secret of Divine Civilization, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states:

And the honour and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world’s multitudes should become a source of social good. Is any larger bounty conceivable than this, that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men? No, by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight.

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

What is a foundational concept to explore in this context?

  • the spiritual reality of man

What is a fundamental tenet of Bahá’í belief, upon which hope for the future of humankind is built?

  • the nobility inherent to every human being

What is repeatedly affirmed in the Writings?

  • the soul’s capacity to manifest all the names and attributes of God

What does economic life provide us an arena for the expression of?

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Trustworthiness
  • Generosity
  • other qualities of the spirit

What does society believe we are?

  • a self-interested economic unit
  • striving to claim an ever-greater share of the world’s material resources

What does Bahá’u’lláh tell us we are?

  • Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches

What does He ask us to do?

  • Dissipate not the wealth of your precious lives in the pursuit of evil and corrupt affection
  • Don’t let your endeavours be spent in promoting your personal interest

What happens when we consecrate ourselves to the service of others?

  • We find meaning and purpose in life
  • We contribute to the upliftment of society itself

What does ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us about our honour and distinction?

  • that we should become a source of social good among all the world’s multitudes
  • there is no larger bounty conceivable than to see that we have become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to our fellow men
  • there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How does economic life provide us with an arena for the expression of (give examples for each):
  • Honesty?
  • Integrity?
  • Trustworthiness?
  • Generosity?
  1. What’s the problem with self-interested economic units, striving to claim an ever-greater share of the world’s material resources?
  1. How are you serving humanity now, and what changes would you like to make in your life, to serve humanity more selflessly?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

Paragraph Seven

Viewed in this light, many seemingly ordinary economic activities gain new significance because of their potential to add to human welfare and prosperity. “Every person must have an occupation, a trade or a craft,” explains the Master, “so that he may carry other people’s burdens, and not himself be a burden to others.” The poor are urged by Bahá’u’lláh to “exert themselves and strive to earn the means of livelihood”, while they who are possessed of riches “must have the utmost regard for the poor”. “Wealth”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has affirmed, “is praiseworthy in the highest degree, if it is acquired by an individual’s own efforts and the grace of God, in commerce, agriculture, art and industry, and if it be expended for philanthropic purposes.” At the same time, the Hidden Words is replete with warnings of its perilous allure, that wealth is a “mighty barrier” between the believer and the proper Object of his adoration. No wonder, then, that Bahá’u’lláh extols the station of the wealthy one who is not hindered by riches from attaining the eternal kingdom; the splendour of such a soul “shall illuminate the dwellers of heaven even as the sun enlightens the people of the earth!” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá declares that “if a judicious and resourceful individual should initiate measures which would universally enrich the masses of the people, there could be no undertaking greater than this, and it would rank in the sight of God as the supreme achievement”. For wealth is most commendable “provided the entire population is wealthy.” Examining one’s life to determine what is a necessity and then discharging with joy one’s obligation in relation to the law of Ḥuqúqu’lláh is an indispensable discipline to bring one’s priorities into balance, purify whatever wealth one possesses, and ensure that the share which is the Right of God provides for the greater good. At all times, contentment and moderation, benevolence and fellow feeling, sacrifice and reliance on the Almighty are qualities that befit the God-fearing soul.

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

When viewed in this light, what gains new significance because of their potential to add to human welfare and prosperity?

  • many seemingly ordinary economic activities

What must everyone have?

  • a trade or a craft

Why?

  • so that he may carry other people’s burdens, and not himself be a burden to others

What are the poor urged to do?

  • exert themselves
  • strive to earn the means of livelihood

In which areas are we encouraged to find work?

  • commerce
  • agriculture
  • art
  • industry

What are they who are possessed of riches urged to do?

  • They must have the utmost regard for the poor

When is wealth praiseworthy in the highest degree,?

  • if it is acquired by an individual’s own efforts
  • if it is acquired through the grace of God
  • if it be expended for philanthropic purposes
  • when the entire population is wealthy

What is the station of the wealthy one who is not hindered by riches?

  • They’ll attain the eternal kingdom
  • The splendour of such a soul “shall illuminate the dwellers of heaven even as the sun enlightens the people of the earth!”

What is the greatest undertaking and ranked in the sight of God as the supreme achievement?

  • if a judicious and resourceful individual should initiate measures which would universally enrich the masses of the people

What is an easy way we can bring our priorities into balance and purify whatever wealth we may possess?

  • Examine our life to determine what is a necessity and then discharging with joy our obligation in relation to the law of Ḥuqúqu’lláh

What else will that ensure?

  • that the share which belongs to the Right of God will provide for the greater good

What 5 qualities befit the God-fearing soul at all times?

  • contentment
  • moderation
  • benevolence
  • fellow-feeling
  • sacrifice
  • reliance on the Almighty

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What are some examples of seemingly ordinary economic activities?
  1. What prevents the poor from exerting themselves to strive to earn their means of livelihood in this economic climate?
  1. How could they who are possessed of riches help the poor to exert themselves as they strive to earn their means of livelihood?
  1. When is wealth a “mighty barrier” between us and God?
  1. What steps can we take to make sure that wealth does not become a mighty barrier?
  1. How does paying the Right of God provide for the greater good?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

Paragraph Eight

The forces of materialism promote a quite contrary line of thinking: that happiness comes from constant acquisition, that the more one has the better, that worry for the environment is for another day. These seductive messages fuel an increasingly entrenched sense of personal entitlement, which uses the language of justice and rights to disguise self-interest. Indifference to the hardship experienced by others becomes commonplace while entertainment and distracting amusements are voraciously consumed. The enervating influence of materialism seeps into every culture, and all Bahá’ís recognize that, unless they strive to remain conscious of its effects, they may to one degree or another unwittingly adopt its ways of seeing the world. Parents must be acutely aware that, even when very young, children absorb the norms of their surroundings. The junior youth spiritual empowerment programme encourages thoughtful discernment at an age when the call of materialism grows more insistent. With the approach of adulthood comes a responsibility, shared by one’s generation, not to allow worldly pursuits to blind one’s eyes to injustice and privation. Over time, the qualities and attitudes nurtured by the courses of the training institute, through exposure to the Word of God, help individuals to see past the illusions that, at every stage of life, the world uses to pull attention away from service and towards the self. And ultimately, the systematic study of the Word of God and the exploration of its implications raises consciousness of the need to manage one’s material affairs in keeping with the divine teachings.

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

What 3 contrary lines of thinking do the forces of materialism promote?

  • that happiness comes from constant acquisition
  • that the more one has the better
  • that worry for the environment is for another day

What do these seductive messages fuel?

  • an increasingly entrenched sense of personal entitlement

What language do they use?

  • the language of justice and rights

For what purpose?

  • to disguise self-interest

When the language of justice and rights are used to disguise self-interest, what do these seductive messages fuel?

  • an increasingly entrenched sense of personal entitlement

When entertainment and distracting amusements are voraciously consumed, what becomes commonplace?

  • Indifference to the hardship experienced by others
  • the enervating influence of materialism seeps into every culture
  • unless they strive to remain conscious of its effects, they may unwittingly adopt its ways of seeing the world

What must parents be acutely aware of?

  • that, even when very young, children absorb the norms of their surroundings.

How does the junior youth spiritual empowerment programme help?

  • It encourages thoughtful discernment at an age when the call of materialism grows more insistent.

What responsibility comes with the approach of adulthood?

  • not to allow worldly pursuits to blind one’s eyes to injustice and privation.

How does the training institute help over time?

  • the qualities and attitudes nurtured by the courses of the training institute, help individuals to see past the illusions that, at every stage of life, the world uses to pull attention away from service and towards the self.

How does it do this?

  • through exposure to systematic study of the Word of God, and the exploration of its implications

What are the benefits?

  • It raises consciousness of the need to manage one’s material affairs in keeping with the divine teachings.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What does personal entitlement look like?
  1. How is the language of justice and rights used to disguise self-interest?
  1. Give some examples of entertainment and distracting amusements that our society voraciously consumes.
  1. How does this breed indifference to the hardship experienced by others?
  1. What steps can parents take to make sure that very young children don’t absorb the norms of their surroundings?
  1. How do we prevent worldly pursuits from blinding our eyes to injustice and privation?
  1. If you were managing your material affairs in keeping with the divine teachings, what would you need to do?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

Paragraph Nine

Beloved Friends: The extremes of wealth and poverty in the world are becoming ever more untenable. As inequity persists, so the established order is seen to be unsure of itself, and its values are being questioned. Whatever the tribulations that a conflicted world must confront in the future, we pray that the Almighty will help His loved ones to overcome every obstacle in their path and assist them to serve humanity. The larger the presence of a Bahá’í community in a population, the greater its responsibility to find ways of addressing the root causes of the poverty in its surroundings. Although the friends are at the early stages of learning about such work and of contributing to the related discourses, the community-building process of the Five Year Plan is creating everywhere the ideal environment in which to accrue knowledge and experience, gradually but consistently, about the higher purpose of economic activity. Against the background of the age-long work of erecting a divine civilization, may this exploration become a more pronounced feature of community life, institutional thought, and individual action in the years ahead.

[signed: The Universal House of Justice]

Questions and Answers from the Quote:

What is becoming ever more untenable?

  • the extremes of wealth and poverty in the world

What happens as a result?

  • the established order is seen to be unsure of itself
  • its values are being questioned

What will help with the tribulations that a conflicted world must confront in the future?

  • we pray that the Almighty will help us overcome every obstacle in our path
  • we pray that the Almighty will assist us to serve humanity

What is a great responsibility when the larger the presence of a Bahá’í community in a population grows?

  • to find ways of addressing the root causes of the poverty in its surroundings.

Where are we in this?

  • at the early stages of learning about such work
  • at the early stages of contributing to the related discourses

What is creating the ideal environment in which to accrue knowledge and experience about the higher purpose of economic activity?

  • the community-building process of the Five Year Plan

At what level can this exploration of erecting a divine civilization become a more pronounced feature of?

  • community life
  • institutional thought
  • individual action

 Questions for Reflection:

  1. Give examples of how the established order is seen to be unsure of itself.
  1. What are the values of the established order?
  1. How are these values being questioned?
  1. What can the individual do to find ways of addressing the root causes of poverty in your cluster?
  1. How can the community building process help address the root causes of poverty in your cluster?

Now:  Summarize the paragraph in a sentence or two.

What was your favorite part of the letter?  Post your comments below!

Study Guide for the Ridvan 2016 Message

Study Guide for the Ridvan 2016 Message

With Assistance from Barbara Ann

__________________________________________________________

The Universal House of Justice

Riḍván 2016

 

To the Bahá’ís of the World

Dearly loved Friends,

Paragraph One

With the advent of the King of Festivals, the period of preparation for the next global Plan is over: we now summon the friends of God to a new five-year commitment of courage, resolve, and resources.

What is now over?

  • the period of preparation for the next global Plan is over

To what is the House of Justice summoning us?

  • to a new five-year commitment of courage, resolve, and resources

What will this five year commitment require of us?

  • courage, resolve, and resources

Paragraph Two

The company of Bahá’u’lláh’s faithful stands poised. Institutional gatherings convened across the world in recent months have sent out successive signals of eagerness to begin this mighty enterprise. The imperatives contained in the message addressed to the Counsellors’ Conference are already being translated into decisive plans of action. Decades of heroic endeavour have shaped the community and earned it a measure of proven ability in fostering growth, steeling it for this moment. The last two decades, in particular, have markedly accelerated this longed-for rise in proficiency.

Who stands poised?

  • the company of Bahá’u’lláh’s faithful

What sent out successive signals of eagerness to begin this mighty enterprise?

  • institutional gatherings convened across the world in recent months

What is already being translated into decisive plans of action?

  • the imperatives contained in the message addressed to the Counsellors’ Conference

What has shaped the community and earned it a measure of proven ability in fostering growth, steeling it for this moment?

  • decades of heroic endeavour

What has markedly accelerated this longed-for rise in proficiency?

  • the last two decades, in particular

DISCUSS

  • How are “the Company of Baha’u’llah’s faithful” standing poised?
  • How have the “institutional gatherings convened across the world in recent months sent out successive signals of eagerness to begin this mighty enterprise”?
  • How are “the imperatives contained in the message addressed to the Counsellors’ Conference already being translated into decisive plans of action”?
  • How have “decades of heroic endeavour shaped the community and earned it a measure of proven ability in fostering growth, steeling it for this moment”?
  • How has “the last two decades, in particular, markedly accelerated this longed-for rise in proficiency”?

Paragraph Three

During this period, the adoption of an evolving framework for action has enabled the friends to progressively nurture and refine essential capacities, giving rise to simple acts of service at first, leading to more elaborate patterns of action, which in turn demanded the development of capacities still more complex. In this way, a systematic process of human resource development and community building has been started in thousands of clusters—and, in many of them, become far advanced. The focus has not been solely on the individual believer, or the community, or the institutions of the Faith; all three inseparable participants in the evolution of the new World Order are being stimulated by the spiritual forces released through the unfoldment of the Divine Plan. The signs of their progress are more and more apparent: in the confidence that countless believers have acquired to share accounts of Bahá’u’lláh’s life and discuss the implications of His Revelation and peerless Covenant; in the growing contingents of souls who, as a result, have been attracted to His Cause and are contributing to the achievement of His unifying vision; in the ability of Bahá’ís and their friends, at the very grassroots of the community, to describe in eloquent terms their experience of a process capable of transforming character and shaping social existence; in the significantly larger numbers of those indigenous to a country who, as members of Bahá’í institutions and agencies, are now guiding the affairs of their communities; in the reliable, generous, and sacrificial giving to the Fund, so vital for sustaining the advancement of the Faith; in the unprecedented efflorescence of individual initiative and collective action in support of community building activities; in the enthusiasm of so many selfless souls in the prime of youth who are bringing immense vigour to this work, notably by tending to the spiritual education of younger generations; in the enhancement of the devotional character of the community through regular gatherings for worship; in the rise in capacity at all levels of Bahá’í administration; in the readiness of institutions, agencies, and individuals to think in terms of process, to read their immediate reality and assess their resources in the places where they live, and to make plans on that basis; in the now familiar dynamic of study, consultation, action, and reflection that has cultivated an instinctive posture of learning; in the mounting appreciation for what it means to give effect to the Teachings through social action; in the multiplying opportunities being sought and seized to offer a Bahá’í perspective on discourses prevalent in society; in the awareness of a global community that, in all its endeavours, it is hastening the emergence of divine civilization by manifesting the society building power inherent in the Cause; indeed, in the friends’ growing consciousness that their efforts to foster inner transformation, to widen the circle of unity, to collaborate with others in the field of service, to help populations take charge of their own spiritual, social, and economic development—and, through all such efforts, to bring about the betterment of the world—express the very purpose of religion itself.

What has enabled the friends to progressively nurture and refine essential capacities?

  • the adoption of an evolving framework for action

What happens first, and to what does it lead?

  • simple acts of service at first, leading to more elaborate patterns of action

What does this demand of us?

  • the development of capacities still more complex

What has been started in thousands of clusters—and, in many of them, become far advanced?

  • a systematic process of human resource development and community building

Which three inseparable participants in the evolution of the new World Order are being stimulated by the spiritual forces released through the unfoldment of the Divine Plan?

  • the individual believer
  • the community
  • the institutions of the Faith

Where are the signs of their progress more and more apparent?

  • in the confidence that countless believers have acquired to share accounts of Bahá’u’lláh’s life and discuss the implications of His Revelation and peerless Covenant
  • in the growing contingents of souls who, as a result, have been attracted to His Cause and are contributing to the achievement of His unifying vision
  • in the ability of Bahá’ís and their friends, at the very grassroots of the community, to describe in eloquent terms their experience of a process capable of transforming character and shaping social existence
  • in the significantly larger numbers of those indigenous to a country who, as members of Bahá’í institutions and agencies, are now guiding the affairs of their communities
  • in the reliable, generous, and sacrificial giving to the Fund, so vital for sustaining the advancement of the Faith
  • in the unprecedented efflorescence of individual initiative and collective action in support of community building activities
  • in the enthusiasm of so many selfless souls in the prime of youth who are bringing immense vigour to this work, notably by tending to the spiritual education of younger generations
  • in the enhancement of the devotional character of the community through regular gatherings for worship
  • in the rise in capacity at all levels of Bahá’í administration
  • in the readiness of institutions, agencies, and individuals to think in terms of process, to read their immediate reality and assess their resources in the places where they live, and to make plans on that basis
  • in the now familiar dynamic of study, consultation, action, and reflection that has cultivated an instinctive posture of learning
  • in the mounting appreciation for what it means to give effect to the Teachings through social action
  • in the multiplying opportunities being sought and seized to offer a Bahá’í perspective on discourses prevalent in society
  • in the awareness of a global community that, in all its endeavours, it is hastening the emergence of divine civilization by manifesting the society building power inherent in the Cause

Through what efforts have we been able to express the very purpose of religion itself?

  • growing consciousness
  • efforts to foster inner transformation
  • widen the circle of unity
  • collaborate with others in the field of service
  • help populations take charge of their own spiritual, social, and economic development

What has these efforts brought about?

  • the betterment of the world

DISCUSS

  • How is “the evolution of the new World Order” “being stimulated”?

Paragraph Four

While no single measure can capture the totality of the Bahá’í community’s progress, much can be inferred from the number of clusters worldwide where a programme of growth has been established, which, with gratitude for the bounties bestowed by the Abhá Beauty, we confirm has surpassed 5,000. So broad a foundation as this was a prerequisite for taking on the task that now confronts the Bahá’í world—strengthening the process of growth in every cluster where it has begun and extending further an enriching pattern of community life. The sustained effort required will be arduous. But the outcome has the potential to be profoundly significant, even epoch making. Small steps, if they are regular and rapid, add up to a great distance travelled. By concentrating on the advance that must be made in a cluster in an initial period—for instance, in the six cycles occurring before the first of the bicentennial anniversaries—the friends will do much to bring their goal for the full five years within reach. In each cycle are vested fleeting opportunities for a stride forward, precious possibilities that will not return.

How can we measure progress?

  • While no single measure can capture the totality of the Bahá’í community’s progress, much can be inferred from the number of clusters worldwide where a programme of growth has been established

How many programmes of growth have been established?

  • we confirm has surpassed 5,000

How has this been achieved and what can we be grateful for?

  • with gratitude for the bounties bestowed by the Abhá Beauty

What is the task that now confronts the Bahá’í world?

  • strengthening the process of growth in every cluster where it has begun
  • extending further an enriching pattern of community life

What will be arduous?

  • the sustained effort required

How has the potential outcome been described?

  • profoundly significant, even epoch making

What adds up to a great distance travelled?

  • Small steps, if they are regular and rapid

How can we do much to bring our goals for the full five years within reach?

  • by concentrating on the advance that must be made in a cluster in the six cycles occurring before the first of the bicentennial anniversaries

Bonus Question:  What is the first of the bicentennial anniversaries and when is it?

With what is each cycle vested?

  • fleeting opportunities for a stride forward
  • precious possibilities that will not return

Paragraph Five

In society at large, alas, the symptoms of an ever-deepening malaise of the soul multiply and worsen. How striking that, as the peoples of the world suffer for want of the true remedy and turn fitfully from one false hope to another, you are collectedly refining an instrument that connects hearts with the Word of God eternal. How striking that, amid the cacophony of fixed opinions and opposing interests that grows everywhere more fierce, you are focused on drawing people together to build communities that are havens of unity. Far from disheartening you, let the world’s prejudices and hostilities be reminders of how urgently souls all around you need the healing balm that you alone can present to them.

What is happening in society at large?

  • the symptoms of an ever-deepening malaise of the soul multiply and worsen

What is the striking contrast?

  • as the peoples of the world suffer for want of the true remedy and turn fitfully from one false hope to another, we are collectedly refining an instrument that connects hearts with the Word of God eternal
  • amid the cacophony of fixed opinions and opposing interests that grows everywhere more fierce, we are focused on drawing people together to build communities that are havens of unity

Instead of becoming disheartened, of what should we remind ourselves?

  • let the world’s prejudices and hostilities be reminders of how urgently souls all around you need the healing balm that you alone can present to them

DISCUSS

  • How are we collectively “refining an instrument that connects hearts with the Word of God eternal”?
  • How are we building communities that are havens of unity?
  • What does the Universal House of Justice tell us to do with “the world’s prejudices and hostilities”?

Paragraph Six

This is the last in a series of consecutive Five Year Plans. At its close, a new phase in the evolution of the Divine Plan will open, set to propel the community of Bahá’u’lláh towards the third century of the Bahá’í Era. May the friends of God in every country appreciate the promise of these few years ahead, which will be rigorous preparation for the even mightier tasks yet to come. The present Plan’s broad scope enables every individual to support this work, however humble one’s share. We ask you, cherished co-workers, adorers of Him Who is the Best-Beloved of the worlds, to spare no effort in applying all you have learned and every God-given ability and skill you possess to advance the Divine Plan into its next essential stage. To your own ardent supplications for heavenly assistance we add ours, offered in the Holy Shrines, on behalf of all who labour for this all encompassing Cause.

What is unique about this plan?

  • this is the last in a series of consecutive Five Year Plans

What will happen at its close?

  • a new phase in the evolution of the Divine Plan will open

To what will it propel us?

  • towards the third century of the Bahá’í Era

What are we asked to appreciate?

  • the promise of these few years ahead which will be rigorous preparation for the even mightier tasks yet to come

What does this plan’s broad scope enable every individual?

  • to support this work, however humble one’s share

What is the House of Justice asking us?

  • to spare no effort in applying all we have learned and every God-given ability and skill we possess to advance the Divine Plan into its next essential stage

What prayers are being offered in the Holy Shrines, on behalf of all who labour for this all encompassing Cause?

  • ardent supplications for heavenly assistance

DISCUSS

  • How do we “spare no effort in applying all” we “have learned”  “to advance the Divine Plan into its next essential stage”?
  • How do we apply “every God-given ability”  “to advance the Divine Plan into its next essential stage”?
  • How do you apply “the skills you possess to advance the Divine Plan into its next essential stage”?

 [signed: The Universal House of Justice]

Study Guide for the 29 December 2015 Letter To the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors

 

Recently the Universal House of Justice shared with the world, their letter to the Continental Board of Counsellors with the world.  This important letter summarizes what has been accomplished during the existing plan, and what will be called on us to achieve for the coming plan.  It is, essentially, our “marching orders” for the next 5 years.

It’s important, therefore, for Bahá’ís everywhere to study it carefully and often, so that we can be prepared to take our place in the Army of Light in the years to come.

It’s such a weighty document that it’s possible to miss important guidance if we just grab onto pieces of it.  I find it helpful to stop and digest every single sentence, so in this study guide, I have asked a question, which the letter answers.

The letter is exactly as written, with only my questions interjected to facilitate study.  I imagine groups of people studying it together, possibly stopping after every paragraph and asking these questions to help ensure the learning is solidified.  I hope you find it helpful!

If you find the questions too distracting and want to read the letter without the questions, you can find it online.

 

Dearly loved Friends,

Page 1 – Paragraph 1:

What is in its closing stages and will soon be sealed?

The Plan upon which the Baha’i world embarked nearly five years ago is in its closing stages; the final tally of its accomplishments grows still, but will soon be sealed.

What inspired the collective effort of the last 5 year plan?

The collective effort it inspired has called for wholehearted reliance on those powers with which a benevolent Lord has endowed His loved ones.

What two things are the House of Justice conscious of, as we bring the current plan to a conclusion?

Gathered with you at this moment of reflection, we are conscious of

  • a determination among the friends to bring the current Plan to a fitting conclusion, and of
  • an eagerness to advance further along the path that experience has marked out.

Paragraph 2:

What are the most striking outcomes of the present plan?

The considerable distance already travelled along that path is evident from the present Plan’s most striking outcomes.

  • The ambitious goal of raising to 5,000 the number of clusters where a programme of growth, at whatever level of intensity, is under way looks set to be achieved in the months that remain before Ridvan 2016.
  • In many scores of clusters, there are over a thousand inhabitants–sometimes several thousand–taking part in a well-established pattern of activity that embraces ever-larger numbers, raising communities whose habits of thought and action are rooted in Baha’u’llah’s Revelation.
  • Worldwide, half a million individuals have now been enabled to complete at least the first book in the sequence of courses, an extraordinary feat that has laid a sure foundation for the system of human resource development.
  • A generation of youth is being galvanized into action by a compelling vision of how they can contribute to building a new world.
  • Marvelling at what they have seen, leaders of society in certain places are pressing the Baha’is to make their programmes for educating the young widely available.
  • Faced with increasing complexity, Baha’i institutions and their agencies are finding ways to organize the activities of rising numbers of friends by promoting collaboration and mutual support.
  • And the capacity for learning, which represented such a priceless legacy of previous Plans, is being extended beyond the realm of expansion and consolidation to encompass other areas of Baha’i endeavour, notably social action and participation in the prevalent discourses of society.
  • We see a community fortified with the gifts of strength and hard-won experience that come from two decades of unremitting effort focused on a common aim: a significant advance in the process of entry by troops.

Paragraph 3:

What has already occurred?

That this process must go much further, there can be no doubt; nevertheless, developments demonstrate that a significant advance has already occurred.

What has this prepared us for?

It has prepared the friends of God for a more exacting test of their capabilities, one that will also make great demands of your institution as you rally them to meet its requirements.

What is called for in the coming plan?

In this coming Plan, which will conclude at the threshold of the second century of the Formative Age of the Faith, we will call the believers everywhere to the immense exertion necessary to bring to fruition the seeds that have been so lovingly and assiduously sown and watered in the five Plans that preceded it.

Page 2 – Paragraph 4:

 The emergence of a programme of growth

What characteristics shape the unfoldment of the process of growth in a cluster?

The unfoldment of the process of growth in a cluster, while naturally possessing unique features in every instance shaped by the receptivity of those who are exposed to the divine teachings, conforms to certain shared characteristics.

Where can we read more about them?

Many of these were discussed in our message to your 2010 conference, in which reference was made to a series of milestones that mark progress along a path of development.

What did it teach us?

A collective understanding of what is required for the friends in a cluster to pass the first of the milestones we described, and then the second, has grown over this period.

Paragraph 5:

What is the task facing us with the plan now ending?

In the Five Year Plan now ending, the task facing the believers has been to apply all that had been learned from previous Plans to the work of extending the process of growth to thousands of new clusters.

What is it dependent on?

What this has shown is that much depends on the ability of the institutions to draw on help from friends in other clusters, reinforcing the actions of an existing Baha’i community by, for example, arranging the support of visiting teaching teams or tutors.

Where does the institute process begin?

In many places, the institute process begins with the assistance of believers from stronger neighbouring communities who find creative ways of reaching out to the local population, youth in particular, and supporting them as they start to engage in service.

What helps stimulate activity in a cluster?

Efforts to stimulate activity in a cluster, especially one that has not yet been opened to the Faith, are greatly enhanced if one or more individuals settle there as homefront pioneers, concentrating their attention on part of a village or even a single street where there is heightened receptivity.

How many homefront pioneers have arisen during the present plan?

Well over 4,500 believers have already arisen to serve in this way during the present Plan, an astonishing accomplishment.

Paragraph 6:

What is the chief aim?

Whatever the combination of strategies used, the chief aim is to

  • initiate a process for building capacity within the cluster
  • through which its inhabitants, prompted by a wish to contribute to the spiritual and material well-being of their communities,
  • are enabled to begin offering acts of service.

What happens when this fundamental requirement is met?

Once this fundamental requirement is met, a programme of growth has emerged.

Whose support is essential and what role do they play?

Essential, of course, is the support of Auxiliary Board members and their assistants, whose close involvement from the first stirrings of activity helps the friends to maintain a clear and united vision of what is needed.

Paragraph 7:

 Strengthening the pattern of action

What happens before long?

Before long, there forms a nucleus of friends in a cluster who are working and consulting together and arranging activities.

What is necessary for the process of growth to advance further?

For the process of growth to advance further,

  • the number of people sharing this commitment must rise, and
  • their capacity for undertaking systematic action within the framework of the Plan must correspondingly increase.

When the right conditions are in place, what happens?

And similar to the development of a living organism, growth can occur quickly when the right conditions are in place.

Paragraph 8:

What is central to moving populations forward?

Foremost among these conditions is an institute process gaining in strength, given its centrality to fostering the movement of populations.

What happens when the institute process gains in strength?

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.

What happens when we have a flow of participants thought institute courses?

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.

What does progress rely on?

Progress relies to a large extent on the quality of the efforts of those serving as tutors.

Page 3

Where do the tutors come from?

At this early stage, most of them might still be drawn from other clusters, but at the same time, a few local friends are being raised up who, as their capacity for action increases, begin to help others study the materials of the institute.

What are the two undesirable outcomes we should steer a path between?

Efforts to usher in the first cadre of tutors from the cluster should steer a path between two undesirable outcomes.

  • If individuals proceed through the courses of the institute too hastily, the capacity to serve is not sufficiently developed;
  • conversely, if study is overly prolonged, the process is robbed of the dynamism essential to its advancement.

What is required to achieve the necessary balance and what does it ensure?

In differing circumstances, creative solutions have been used to achieve the necessary balance, ensuring that, within a reasonable period, some among those residing in a cluster are enabled to serve as tutors.

Paragraph 9:

What brings about progress?

Of course, it is not the provision of training by itself that brings about progress.  Efforts to build capacity fall short if arrangements are not swiftly made to accompany individuals into the arena of service.

What is necessary for accompanying others into the arena of service?

  • An adequate level of support extends far beyond encouraging words.
  • When preparing to take on an unfamiliar task, working alongside a person with some experience increases consciousness of what is possible.
  • An assurance of practical help can give a tentative venturer the courage to initiate an activity for the first time.

What happens when we are effective in accompanying others?

  • Souls then advance their understanding together,
  • humbly sharing the insights each possesses at a given moment and
  • eagerly seeking to learn from fellow wayfarers on the path of service.
  • Hesitation recedes and
  • capacity develops to the point where an individual can carry out activities independently and, in turn,
  • accompany others on the same path.

Paragraph 10:

What is the growing need of those going through the institute courses?

Where the institute is concerned, the flow of participants through its courses creates a growing need for them to be systematically supported as they begin serving as teachers of children, as animators, and as tutors.

Where do opportunities arise?

Opportunities naturally arise for those among the core of believers who have already gained a measure of experience in the educational activities to assist those who are newer to them.

What happens when an individual is ready to help others move forward in their efforts to serve?

An individual’s readiness to help others move forward in their efforts to serve might lead to specific responsibilities being assigned to him or her.  In this manner, coordinators of each of the three stages of the educational process gradually emerge as needs demand.  Their actions are always motivated by a desire to see capacity develop in others and to foster friendships founded on cooperation and reciprocity.

Paragraph 11:

What capacity is being built through the institute process?

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 Baha’i teachings.

What happens when informal arrangements to support the friends become inadequate?

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.

What is the focus of the Area Teaching Committee?

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.

What do its members come to see and appreciate?

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.

When a committee is in place, what do they do?

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.

What will the Counsellors do?

You will need to encourage National Spiritual Assemblies and Regional Baha’i 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.

Paragraph 12:

What do individuals and agencies need?

Just like individuals, the agencies emerging in a cluster need assistance as they take up their duties.

Who provides this assistance?

  • The help that Auxiliary Board members provide in this regard is essential, but it is also an important responsibility of
  • Regional Baha’i Councils or, where no Council exists, of the
  • National Spiritual Assembly itself, and it is a pressing concern for
  • training institutes as well.

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How does the capacity to serve ably at the cluster level increase?

The capacity to serve ably at the cluster level increases when

  • spaces are created in which the believers involved can study guidance,
  • reflect on their actions in its light and
  • draw insights therefrom, and also
  • become connected with the wider body of knowledge being generated in surrounding clusters and further afield.

What happens instead of formulating plans in the abstract?

Instead of formulating plans in the abstract, consultations conducted in such spaces often aim at

  • capturing the reality of the cluster at that particular moment and
  • identifying the immediate next steps to facilitate progress.

What is the role of those serving at the regional or national levels?

Those serving at the regional or national level may do much to

  • advise the friends and
  • expand their vision of what can be accomplished, but
  • they would not seek to impose their own expectations on the planning process; rather,
  • they are helping the believers who are labouring in a cluster to gradually enhance their ability to devise and implement a course of action informed by the experience accumulating at the grassroots of the community and familiarity with actual conditions.

How do they develop the capacity of cluster agencies?

In order to develop the capacity of cluster agencies to learn and to act systematically, regional and national institutions need to be conscientious and methodical in their own efforts to assist them.

Who helps with the process?

Your auxiliaries’ support for this work will ensure that each element of the growth process attains the requisite characteristics and that the integrity and coherence of all the endeavours are maintained.

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What is present from the very start?

The impulse to learn through action is, of course, present among the friends from the very start.

What capitalizes and reinforces the emerging capacity?

The introduction of quarterly cycles of activity capitalizes on this emerging capacity and allows it to be steadily reinforced.  Although this capacity is specifically associated with the reflection and planning phase of a cycle, especially the reflection gathering that regulates its pulsating heartbeat, it also comes to be exercised at all other points of the cycle by those pursuing related lines of action.

What happens as learning accelerates and how long does it last?

We note that, as learning accelerates, the friends

  • grow more capable of overcoming setbacks, whether small or large—
  • diagnosing their root causes,
  • exploring the underlying principles,
  • bringing to bear relevant experience,
  • identifying remedial steps, and
  • assessing progress, until the process of growth has been fully reinvigorated.

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How does transformation happen?

  • Central to the pattern of action evolving in a cluster is the individual and collective transformation effected through the agency of the Word of God.
  • From the beginning of the sequence of courses, a participant encounters Baha’u’llah’s Revelation in considering such weighty themes as worship, service to humanity, the life of the soul, and the education of children and youth.
  • As a person cultivates the habit of study and deep reflection upon the Creative Word, this process of transformation reveals itself in an ability to express one’s understanding of profound concepts and to explore spiritual reality in conversations of significance.

What happens when we develop the capacity to have conversations of significance?

These capacities are visible not only in the elevated discussions that increasingly characterize interactions within the community, but in the ongoing conversations that reach well beyond–not least between the Baha’i youth and their peers–extending to include parents whose daughters and sons are benefiting from the community’s programmes of education.

Through exchanges of this kind,

  • consciousness of spiritual forces is raised,
  • apparent dichotomies yield to unexpected insights,
  • a sense of unity and common calling is fortified,
  • confidence that a better world can be created is strengthened, and
  • a commitment to action becomes manifest.

Such distinctive conversations gradually attract ever-larger numbers to take part in a range of community activities.

Themes of faith and certitude surface naturally, prompted by the receptivity and experiences of those involved.

What happens when an institute process gains momentum?

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.

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What happens as progress continues?

As progress continues, the rising capacity for meaningful conversation is harnessed in the plans of the institutions.

Where is the capacity for meaningful conversation stimulated?

By the time cycles of activity have formally emerged, this capacity is being further stimulated through the expansion phase that does so much to determine the outcome of each cycle.

What are the objectives of each expansion phase?

The precise objectives of each expansion phase vary, of course, depending on conditions in the cluster and the circumstances of the Baha’i community.  In some instances, its main aim is to increase participation in the core activities; in others, readiness to enrol in the Faith is discovered.  Conversations about the Person of Baha’u’llah and the purpose of His mission occur in a variety of settings, including firesides and visits to homes.

How are these actions developed?

The actions undertaken during this phase allow abilities developed through studying the relevant institute materials to be exercised and refined.

What 4 things happens when experience grows?

As experience grows,

  • the friends become more adept at discerning when they have found a hearing ear,
  • at deciding when to be more direct in sharing the message,
  • at removing obstacles to understanding, and
  • at helping seekers to embrace the Cause.

What benefits occur from working in teams?

The approach of working in teams allows the friends to serve together, offer mutual support, and build confidence–but even when carrying out actions individually, they are coordinating their efforts to greater effect.

What are the benefits of investing time and focused attention to the expansion phase?

Their focus and investment of time endow this short but decisive phase of the cycle with the intensity it demands.  This spirit of high resolve serves to multiply the community’s powers . . .

What happens in each cycle?

. . . and in each cycle the friends learn to depend more and more on the potent confirmations from the divine realm that their actions attract.

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How were intensive programmes of growth handled 5 years ago?

Five years ago, most of the clusters where an intensive programme of growth had been established were those where a reasonable number of Baha’is already lived, often geographically spread out.  Efforts on the part of those believers to advance the work by inviting the participation of friends, co-workers, extended family, and acquaintances did much to raise the level of activity throughout the cluster.  Indeed, widening the circle of participation in this way has become a familiar aspect of Baha’i life and remains essential.

What needs to happen now, for growth to accelerate?

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.

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What is the task facing us as we start the coming Plan?

Therefore, a significant task facing you and your auxiliaries at the outset of the coming Plan will be to assist the friends everywhere to appreciate that, for existing programmes of growth to continue to gain strength, the strategy of initiating community-building activities in neighbourhoods and villages that show promise must be widely adopted and systematically followed.

What do we need to learn?

Individuals serving in such areas learn how to explain the purpose of those activities, how to demonstrate through deeds the purity of their motives, how to nurture environments where the hesitant can be reassured, how to help the inhabitants see the rich possibilities created by working together, and how to encourage them to arise to serve the best interests of their society.  Yet, recognizing the real value of this work should also increase awareness of its delicate character.

How can an emerging pattern of action be smothered?

An emerging pattern of action in a small area can easily be smothered by too much outside attention; accordingly, the number of friends who move to such locations or visit them frequently need not be great since, after all, the process being set in motion is essentially one that depends on the residents themselves.

What is required to initiate a community building activity in a neighbourhood?

What is required from those involved, however, is long-term commitment and a yearning to become so familiar with the reality of a place that they integrate into local life and, eschewing any trace of prejudice or paternalism, form those bonds of true friendship that befit companions on a spiritual journey.  The dynamic that  develops in such settings creates a strong sense of collective will and movement.

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What happens over time?

Over time, the cluster as a whole and its centres of intense activity will infuse one another with the heightened understanding that comes from efforts to apply the teachings in different contexts.

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As the friends in a cluster continue to reinforce and expand the community-building activities taking shape around them, it becomes evident that distinctive progress has been made.  All the elements of a system necessary for growth to be sustained are now in place.

How do we reach the second milestone?

Reaching the second milestone along the continuum of development, which we described to you five years ago, is accompanied by advances qualitative, but also quantitative–such as a rise in the number of those involved in conversations that enable receptivity to be discovered and nurtured, in how many homes are being visited, in core activities and participation, in how many individuals are beginning the sequence of courses or supporting others as they gain the confidence to serve.

Attendance at gatherings to mark the Nineteen Day Feast and Baha’i Holy Days is being fostered by Local Spiritual Assemblies.  Such advances are the more visible signs of a much finer development:  the gradual spread, within a population, of a pattern of community life based on Baha’u’llah’s teachings.  And, naturally, the number of believers grows.

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What has happened in the last 5 years and must still be earnestly pursued?

In the last five years, the path that leads to the emergence of an intensive programme of growth has become more readily discernible.  It must be earnestly pursued.

What is being called for in the coming plan?

In the Plan that will commence this Ridvan, we are calling for growth to be accelerated in all clusters where it has begun.

Notwithstanding the natural ebb and flow characteristic of an organic process, there should appear a clear arc of progress over the course of twenty cycles.

This combined effort should seek to raise the number of clusters where a programme of growth has become intensive to 5,000 by Ridvan 2021.

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What is required to win the goals of the coming plan?

We set this objective before the Baha’i world conscious that it is truly formidable; that a herculean labour will be required; that many sacrifices will have to be made.  But faced with the plight of a world that suffers more each day bereft of Baha’u’llah’s elixir, we cannot, in conscience, ask anything less of His devoted followers.

What will happen if we win the goals?

God willing, their exertions will prove worthy to crown a hundred years of toil and set the stage for exploits as yet unimagined that must adorn the second century of the Formative Age.

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What can we expect in the coming months?

In the coming months, you will be initiating consultations with National Spiritual Assemblies to assess with them the implications that this global goal holds for their respective communities, a process of consultation which has to be quickly extended until it reaches the grassroots.  Action must then ensue.

Where will progress be more swiftly achieved?

We anticipate that progress will be more swiftly achieved in regions where one or more intensive programmes of growth have been sustained for some time, as these offer a valuable source of knowledge and experience and represent a reservoir of human resources as efforts are made to strengthen surrounding areas.

What will result from the pursuit of this goal?

Pursuit of this goal will also result in the emergence of new programmes of growth, often in unopened clusters that neighbour those where a significant advance has occurred.

Where can we find a flow of assistance?

Such a flow of assistance finds its origin in the imperatives laid out in the Tablets of the Divine Plan.

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 Embracing large numbers and managing complexity

What happens when a program of growth becomes nascent and then intensive?

Whereas, when a programme of growth is nascent in a cluster, there might be a handful of individuals who are involved in its promotion and those who are participating might come from only several households, by the time a programme has become intensive, these figures, as one would expect, have grown:  perhaps tens of individuals active in the work of expansion and consolidation, while those participating might well surpass a hundred.

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What is required to reach out and mobilize large numbers?

But being able to reach out to large numbers–mobilizing a hundred people or more, whose service connects them with many hundreds or even thousands–requires the capacity to adapt to a substantial increase in complexity.

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What happens as the growth process continues to gain intensity?

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.

How is the institute process supported?

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.

Who is taking the institute courses in the greatest numbers?

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.

Who experiences the transformative effect of studying the Word of God?

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.

What happens when the flow of people beginning a path of service swells?

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.

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To make this kind of progress, what is required?

This kind of progress requires the concerted efforts of the friends wherever in the cluster they reside.

What have we learned about patterns of action that enable us to embrace large numbers?

Nevertheless, experience in the present Plan demonstrates that a pattern of action that is able to embrace large numbers comes chiefly from working to bring more neighbourhoods and villages–places where the convergence of spiritual forces is effecting rapid change within a body of people–to the point where they can sustain intense activity.

What is required from each neighbourhood and village?

A core of individuals from within each is assuming responsibility for the process of building capacity in its inhabitants.

A broader cross section of the population is being engaged in conversations, and activities are being opened up to whole groups at once–bands of friends and neighbours, troops of youth, entire families–enabling them to realize how society around them can be refashioned.

What happens when we gather for collective worship?

  • The practice of gathering for collective worship, sometimes for dawn prayers, nurtures within all a much deeper connection with the Revelation of Baha’u’llah.
  • Prevailing habits, customs, and modes of expression all become susceptible to change–outward manifestations of an even more profound inner transformation, affecting many souls.
  • The ties that bind them together grow more affectionate.
  • Qualities of mutual support, reciprocity, and service to one another begin to stand out as features of an emerging, vibrant culture among those involved in activities.  The friends in such locations help the cluster agencies extend the growth process to different parts of the cluster, for they are eager to introduce others to the vision of transformation they have themselves already glimpsed.

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Where do we encounter receptivity?

In the course of their endeavours, the believers encounter receptivity within distinct populations who represent a particular ethnic, tribal, or other group and who may be  concentrated in a small setting or present throughout the cluster and well beyond it.

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What can we learn about the dynamics involved?

There is much to be learned about the dynamics involved when a population of this kind embraces the Faith and is galvanized through its edifying influence.

What makes this work important for advancing the Cause of God?

We stress the importance of this work for advancing the Cause of God:  every people has a share in the World Order of Baha’u’llah, and all must be gathered together under the banner of the oneness of humanity.

How does systematic effort to reach out to a population accelerate?

In its early stages, the systematic effort to reach out to a population and foster its participation in the process of capacity building accelerates markedly when members of that population are themselves in the vanguard of such an effort.

These individuals will have special insight into those forces and structures in their societies that can, in various ways, reinforce the endeavours under way.

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As growth in a cluster advances, how are greater demands being met?

As growth in the cluster advances further, greater demands are being placed on the organizational scheme of the training institute.  Additional coordinators are now required, some of whom might focus their efforts on a particular part of the cluster.  However, this need not result in another layer of administration.

How will coordinators collaborate?

Much can be achieved through collaboration, as coordinators start to work together in teams, sometimes drawing on the help of other capable individuals.  The ongoing interactions and exchange of experience within these teams constantly enriches understanding and increases the efficacy of their service.

The coordinators are also discovering that their efforts can be much enhanced if the friends serving as teachers of children, as animators, and as tutors who live in close proximity to one another are able to meet in small groups, in the settings where they serve, and assist each other.

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What is the role of the Area Teaching Committee?

  • Meanwhile, the Area Teaching Committee is rising to a new level of functioning.
  • It is engaged in a more thorough reading of circumstances in the whole cluster:  on the one hand, accurately assessing the capacities of the community and the effects being produced by sustained growth, and on the other, understanding the implications of various social realities for community building in the long term.
  • In the plans it makes each cycle, the Committee relies heavily on those shouldering the greatest share of the work of expansion and consolidation, but given that the number of those connected in some way with the pattern of activity is now large, a variety of questions become more pressing:  how to mobilize the entire company of believers in support of teaching goals; how to organize systematic home visits to the friends who would benefit from deepening and discussions that connect them with the community; how to strengthen spiritual bonds with the parents of children and junior youth; how to build on the interest of those who have shown goodwill towards the Faith but have yet to take part in its activities.
  • Promoting the widespread holding of devotional meetings is another concern, so that hundreds of people, eventually thousands, are engaged in worship in the company of their households and their neighbours.
  • Ultimately, of course, the Committee looks to continually extend the reach of the community’s endeavours so that more and more souls become acquainted with the message of Baha’u’llah.
  • In managing the complexities involved in its own work–which includes gathering and analysing statistical data, as well as a diversity of other tasks–the Committee draws on the help of individuals beyond its own members.  These complexities also require increasingly close collaboration with Local Spiritual Assemblies.

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What is the role of the Local Assembly?

  • For its part, and in response to growing numbers attending activities, the Local Assembly is enhancing its capacity to discharge the many responsibilities it carries on behalf of an expanding community.
  • It seeks to create an environment in which all feel encouraged to contribute to the community’s common enterprise.  It is eager to see the cluster agencies succeed in their plans, and its intimate familiarity with the conditions in its area enable it to foster the development of interacting processes at the local level.
  • With this in mind, it urges the wholehearted participation of the friends in campaigns and meetings for reflection, and it provides material resources and other assistance for initiatives and events being organized in the locality.

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  • The Assembly is also attentive to the need for new believers to be nurtured sensitively, considering when and how various dimensions of community life are to be introduced to them.
  • By encouraging their involvement in institute courses, it aims to ensure that from the very beginning they regard themselves as protagonists in a noble endeavour to build the world anew.
  • It sees to it that gatherings for the Nineteen Day Feast, Holy Day commemorations, and Baha’i elections become opportunities to reinforce the high ideals of the community, strengthen its shared sense of commitment, and fortify its spiritual character.
  • As numbers in the community grow larger, the Assembly gives thought to when it could be beneficial to decentralize such meetings so as to facilitate ever-greater participation on these important occasions.

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What is a notable characteristic of advanced clusters?

A notable characteristic of advanced clusters is a mode of learning that permeates the whole community and acts as a spur to the rise in institutional capacity.

How does learning take place?

Accounts that offer insight into a method, an approach, or a complete process continually flow to and from pockets of activity.

The cluster-wide reflection meeting, at which so much of this learning is presented, is often complemented by meetings for smaller areas, which generate a stronger feeling of responsibility among those attending.

What happens as a result?

This sense of collective ownership becomes more apparent from cycle to cycle–the force released by a united body of people taking charge of their spiritual development over generations to come.

How do they feel about the support they receive from the institutions?

And as they do so, the support they receive from regional and national Baha’i institutions and their agencies is experienced as an unceasing flow of love.

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What is a natural outcome?

A natural outcome of the rise both in resources and in consciousness of the implications of the Revelation for the life of a population is the stirrings of social action.

Where do social action initiatives emerge from?

Not infrequently, initiatives of this kind emerge organically out of the junior youth spiritual empowerment programme or are prompted by consultations about local conditions that occur at community gatherings.

What forms can social action take?

The forms that such endeavours can assume are diverse and include, for example, tutorial assistance to children, projects to better the physical environment, and activities to improve health and prevent disease.  Some initiatives become sustained and gradually grow.  In various places the founding of a community school at the grassroots has arisen from a heightened concern for the proper education of children and awareness of its importance, flowing naturally from the study of institute materials.

How can efforts be reinforced?

On occasion, the efforts of the friends can be greatly reinforced through the work of an established Baha’i-inspired organization functioning in the vicinity.

What are the advantages of starting a social action project?

  • However humble an instance of social action might be at the beginning, it is an indication of a people cultivating within themselves a critical capacity, one that holds infinite potential and significance for the centuries ahead:  learning how to apply the Revelation to the manifold dimensions of social existence.
  • All such initiatives also serve to enrich participation, at an individual and collective level, in prevalent discourses of the wider community.
  • As expected, the friends are being drawn further into the life of society–a development which is inherent in the pattern of action in a cluster from the very start, but which is now much more pronounced.

What is a notable characteristic of advanced clusters?

A notable characteristic of advanced clusters is a mode of learning that permeates the whole community and acts as a spur to the rise in institutional capacity.

How does learning take place?

Accounts that offer insight into a method, an approach, or a complete process continually flow to and from pockets of activity.

The cluster-wide reflection meeting, at which so much of this learning is presented, is often complemented by meetings for smaller areas, which generate a stronger feeling of responsibility among those attending.

What happens as a result?

This sense of collective ownership becomes more apparent from cycle to cycle–the force released by a united body of people taking charge of their spiritual development over generations to come.

How do they feel about the support they receive from the institutions?

And as they do so, the support they receive from regional and national Baha’i institutions and their agencies is experienced as an unceasing flow of love.

What is a natural outcome?

A natural outcome of the rise both in resources and in consciousness of the implications of the Revelation for the life of a population is the stirrings of social action.

Where do social action initiatives emerge from?

Not infrequently, initiatives of this kind emerge organically out of the junior youth spiritual empowerment programme or are prompted by consultations about local conditions that occur at community gatherings.

What forms can social action take?

The forms that such endeavours can assume are diverse and include, for example, tutorial assistance to children, projects to better the physical environment, and activities to improve health and prevent disease.  Some initiatives become sustained and gradually grow.  In various places the founding of a community school at the grassroots has arisen from a heightened concern for the proper education of children and awareness of its importance, flowing naturally from the study of institute materials.

How can efforts be reinforced?

On occasion, the efforts of the friends can be greatly reinforced through the work of an established Baha’i-inspired organization functioning in the vicinity.

What are the advantages of starting a social action project?

  • However humble an instance of social action might be at the beginning, it is an indication of a people cultivating within themselves a critical capacity, one that holds infinite potential and significance for the centuries ahead:  learning how to apply the Revelation to the manifold dimensions of social existence.
  • All such initiatives also serve to enrich participation, at an individual and collective level, in prevalent discourses of the wider community.
  • As expected, the friends are being drawn further into the life of society–a development which is inherent in the pattern of action in a cluster from the very start, but which is now much more pronounced.

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What is the third milestone?

For the movement of a population to have come this far demonstrates that the process which brought it about is strong enough to achieve and sustain a high degree of participation in all aspects of the capacity-building endeavour and manage the complexity entailed.

This is another milestone for the friends to pass, the third in succession since the process of growth in a cluster was begun.  It denotes the appearance of a system for extending, in centre after centre, a dynamic pattern of community life that can engage a people–men and women, youth and adults–in the work of their own spiritual and social transformation.

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When can we expect to see clusters reach the third milestone?

This has already come about in around two hundred clusters, covering a range of socio-economic circumstances, and we anticipate that, by the conclusion of the coming Plan, it will be observable in several hundred more.

It is a future to which the friends labouring in thousands of clusters elsewhere can aspire.

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When clusters reach the third milestone, what do we see?

  • In some of the clusters where growth has advanced to this extent, an even more thrilling development has occurred.  There are locations within these clusters where a significant percentage of the entire population is now involved in community-building activities.
  • For instance, there are small villages where the institute has been able to engage the participation of all the children and junior youth in its programmes.
  • When the reach of activity is extensive, the societal impact of the Faith becomes more evident.
  • The Baha’i community is afforded higher standing as a distinctive moral voice in the life of a people and is able to contribute an informed perspective to the discourses around it on, say, the development of the younger generations.
  • Figures of authority from the wider society start to draw on the insight and experience arising from initiatives of social action inspired by Baha’u’llah’s teachings.
  • Conversations influenced by those teachings, concerned with the common weal, permeate an ever-broader cross section of the population, to the point where an effect on the general discourse in a locality can be perceived.
  • Beyond the Baha’i community, people are coming to regard the Local Spiritual Assembly as a radiant source of wisdom to which they too can turn for illumination.

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What will be a new frontier of learning for the foreseeable future?

We recognize that developments like these are yet a distant prospect for many, even in clusters where the pattern of activity embraces large numbers.  But in some places, this is the work of the moment.

In such clusters, while the friends continue to be occupied with sustaining the process of growth, other dimensions of Baha’i endeavour claim an increasing share of their attention.  They are seeking to understand how a flourishing local population can transform the society of which it is an integral part.  This will be a new frontier of learning for the foreseeable future, where insights will be generated that will ultimately benefit the whole Baha’i world.

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 Releasing the potential of the youth

What are the finest fruits of the present plan?

The marvellous exploits of the youth in the field of service are one of the finest fruits of the present Plan.  If any proof were needed of the extraordinary potential that the youth possess, it has been incontrovertibly delivered.

In the wake of the youth conferences convened in 2013, the surge of energy which was imparted to the work being carried out in clusters demonstrates clearly how the community of the Greatest Name is able to give shape to the highest aspirations of young people.

How pleased we are to see that, following the participation of more than 80,000 youth in these conferences, an additional cohort of over 100,000 have joined them in taking part in numerous encounters held since then.

What needs to happen in the coming plan?

Measures to encourage the full engagement of these growing contingents in the activities of the community must constitute a major component of the new Plan.

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What have we learned about the potential of youth?

The enthusiastic participation of the youth also highlighted the fact that they represent a most responsive element of every receptive population to which the friends have sought to reach out.

What has been learned in this regard is how to help young people become aware of the contribution they can make to the improvement of their society.

As consciousness is raised, they increasingly identify with the aims of the Baha’i community and express eagerness to lend their energies to the work under way.  Conversations along these lines kindle interest in how the physical and spiritual powers available to them at this time of life can be channelled towards providing for the needs of others, particularly for younger generations.

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Special gatherings for youth, now occurring more frequently at the level of the cluster and even the neighbourhood or village, have proved to be ideal occasions for bringing an intensity to this ongoing conversation, and they are an increasingly common feature of cycles of activity in many clusters.

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What has been learned about discussions that contribute to the betterment of society?

Experience suggests that a discussion about contributing to the betterment of society fails to tap the deepest springs of motivation if it excludes exploration of spiritual themes.

The importance of “doing”, of arising to serve and to accompany fellow souls, must be harmonized with the notion of “being”, of increasing one’s understanding of the divine teachings and mirroring forth spiritual qualities in one’s life.

And so it is that, having been introduced to the vision of the Faith for humanity and the exalted character of its mission, the youth naturally feel a desire to be of service, a desire to which training institutes swiftly respond.

Who is responsible for releasing the capacity of youth?

Indeed, releasing the capacity of the youth is, for each training institute, a sacred charge.

Yet fostering that capacity as it develops is a responsibility of every institution of the Cause.

What support do youth need?

The readiness youth demonstrate to take initiative, whatever lines of action they choose, can obscure the fact that they need sustained support from institutions and agencies in the cluster beyond the early steps.

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How can youth support each other?

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.

What are the advantages of supporting youth?

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.

How can youth best help junior youth?

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.

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What happens when the endeavors of youth are integrated into the activities of the cluster?

As youth advance along the path of service, their endeavours are integrated seamlessly into the activities of the cluster, and as a consequence, the entire community thrives as a cohesive whole.

What is the best way to strengthen community building?

Reaching out to the families of young people is a natural way of strengthening community building.

What is the challenge before institutions and agencies?

Institutions and agencies are being challenged to increase their own capacity in order to find ways of systematically realizing the potential of the youth.

With a greater awareness of this age group’s circumstances and dynamics, they are able to plan accordingly–for instance, providing opportunities for youth to study courses intensively, perhaps immediately upon the conclusion of a youth gathering.

What happens with the infusion of energy from a vibrant band of youth?

The infusion of energy from a vibrant band of youth allows the tempo of the work within the cluster to be accelerated.

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What must be guarded against?

While it is right to expect great things from those who have so much to give in the path of service, the friends must guard against adopting a narrow outlook on what development to maturity entails.

What are the elements of a coherent life for a youth?

Freedom of movement and availability of time enable many youth to serve in ways that are directly related to the needs of the community, but as they advance further into their twenties, their horizons broaden.  Other dimensions of a coherent life, equally demanding and highly meritorious, begin to make stronger claims on their attention.

For many, an immediate priority will be further education, academic or vocational, according to the possibilities before them, and new spaces for interaction with society open up.

Moreover, young women and men become acutely conscious of the exhortations of the Supreme Pen to “enter into wedlock” that they may “bring forth one who will make mention of Me amid My servants” and to “engage in crafts and professions”.

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Having taken up an occupation, youth naturally try to contribute to their field, or even to advance it in light of the insights they gain from their continued study of the Revelation, and they strive to be examples of integrity and excellence in their work.

Baha’u’llah extols those “that earn a livelihood by their calling and spend upon themselves and upon their kindred for the love of God, the Lord of all worlds.”

What will happen with this generation of youth?

This generation of youth will form families that secure the foundations of flourishing communities.  Through their growing love for Baha’u’llah and their personal commitment to the standard to which He summons them will their children imbibe the love of God, “commingled with their mother’s milk”, and always seek the shelter of His divine law.

When does the responsibility of the Bahá’í community towards young people end?

Clearly, then, the responsibility of a Baha’i community towards young people does not end when they first start serving.

The significant decisions they make about the direction of their adult lives will determine whether service to the Cause of God was only a brief and memorable chapter of their younger years, or a fixed centre of their earthly existence, a lens through which all actions come into focus.

What is the House of Justice relying on the Counsellors and Auxiliary Board to do?

We rely on you and your auxiliaries to ensure that the spiritual and material prospects of the youth are given due weight in the deliberations of families, communities, agencies, and institutions.

Paragraph 40:

 Enhancing institutional capacity

What were the demands of the present plan and what did they require from us?

The demands of the present Plan–establishing thousands of new programmes of growth and fortifying existing ones–required from national and regional institutions, as well as yourselves, a feat of strength and coordination.

How was meeting the goals made possible?

Meeting them was made possible through a shared spirit of collaboration among the Plan’s three protagonists–the individual, the community, and the institutions.

This spirit was the prerequisite for every important undertaking, including special initiatives to settle pioneers in selected countries and, of course, the organization of 114 youth conferences.

A prevalent attitude of joyful service, flexibility, and detachment from personal preferences lent even routine administrative activities a sacred quality.

What will be tested in the coming plan and how will the tests be resolved?

The fresh demands of the coming Plan will, undoubtedly, test the capacity of Baha’i institutions further still, but no matter what, they will surely preserve this unified spirit among all who work together.

Paragraph 41:

What does movement of clusters along a continuum depend on?

As indicated earlier, the movement of clusters along a continuum depends on there being a commitment from the institutions to guide and support cluster agencies and provide resources as necessary.

Who is responsible for this work?

This work is a critical responsibility of Regional Baha’i Councils and regional training institutes.

Are the number of Bahá’í councils in the world growing?

The number of Councils in the world rose from 170 to 203 in the last five years, reflecting the growing need and the rising capacity for work to be undertaken at this level, and in some countries where Councils are yet to be formed, specific steps were taken to build experience in anticipation of their emergence, such as the appointment of regional teams.

In some regions that stretch across a large territory, Councils have made arrangements for nurturing the development of groups of adjoining clusters.

Meanwhile, in smaller countries that do not require the establishment of Regional Councils, National Assemblies are increasingly giving thought to ways of helping clusters advance, in some instances by forming a working group charged with this task; you are encouraged to stimulate learning in this area, with the aim that, in due course, formal structures can be defined that would assume this responsibility in much the same way that Councils do in other countries.

What will new structures benefit from?

And, as is the case with Councils, we envisage that any such structure which emerges at the national level will benefit from interaction with the institution of the Counsellors.

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What is required of regional and national institutions?

To discharge their duties effectively, regional and national institutions will need to remain fully acquainted with developments at the grassroots and what is being learned in the clusters whose progress they oversee.

Timely access to information about the movement of clusters and the work of the institute in their jurisdictions is required for institutions to support their agencies and take the many decisions that concern, for instance, the deployment of pioneers, the allocation of funds, the creation and promotion of Baha’i literature, and the planning of institutional meetings; it allows them to accurately read the reality of their communities and act on the basis of clearly understood needs when marshalling the energies of the friends towards meeting the exigencies of the hour.

At various intervals a National Assembly, in consultation with you, may find it advisable to formally adopt and disseminate certain aspects of the lessons that have been learned, especially in relation to organizational schemes at the cluster and regional levels.

The need to stay well informed about the community’s accumulating experience holds particular implications for National Assemblies in larger countries that have several Regional Councils, notably so when the Assembly has devolved to Councils the work of administering the institute.

Here, new arrangements at the national level have sometimes been necessary to provide the Assembly with cogent analysis of what is being learned across all regions.

Paragraph 43:

What is the National Spiritual Assembly responsible for?

Of course, a National Spiritual Assembly ultimately has responsibility for fostering all aspects of a Baha’i community’s development.

Although it pursues various lines of action itself, in many cases it fulfils this responsibility by ensuring that Regional Councils or specialized agencies are able to take steps to advance areas of endeavour entrusted to them.

As the capacity of the friends increases and the size of a community grows, the work of a National Assembly in its manifold dimensions becomes commensurately more complex.

What are National Assemblies being asked to consider?

Therefore, and in view of the magnitude of the task before the institutions in the coming Plan, National Assemblies–as well as Councils–will benefit from periodically considering, in collaboration with you, whether their administrative operations, and indeed elements of their own functioning, could be adjusted or enhanced in ways that would better support the growth process.

Paragraph 44:

What is the pressing concern of training institutes?

Attaining a higher level of functioning is similarly a pressing concern of training institutes.

The community’s efforts to fortify programmes of growth in thousands of clusters and sustain their intensification will place heavy demands on these agencies.

Their focus, of course, is the unfoldment of the three stages of the educational process they oversee and the strengthening of the process of learning associated with each, so that both the quality of the institute’s activities and the capacity to extend them to ever-growing numbers are constantly rising.

While it is important that institutes attend to day-to-day operational matters, the scale of what must be accomplished requires that they also become occupied with considerations of strategy.

Training institute boards need to maintain an ongoing consultation with national or regional coordinators, as well as with Auxiliary Board members, about how an activity in a cluster gains strength, how it can be adequately resourced, what approaches prove effective in different settings, and how experience can be shared.

We have in mind a systematic and concentrated effort by this collaborative group to gather and apply insights emerging from the grassroots regarding the promotion of children’s classes, junior youth groups, and study circles.

Addressing other dimensions of the institute’s work–such as schemes of coordination at the cluster level, enhancing the capacity of coordinators, and the management of statistics and finances–will be essential too.

In your work with training institutes, you will no doubt wish to arrange that they draw on the experience of other institutes in the same part of the world.  Sites  for the dissemination of learning about the junior youth programme also offer a rich source of insight for the institutes of nearby countries or regions.

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What about financial resources?

As institutions and agencies seek to accelerate the processes of expansion and consolidation in every land, the question of financial resources will surely claim increased attention.  Indeed, an important aspect of enhancing institutional capacity over the coming years will be the ongoing development of local and national Funds.

For this to occur, the generality of the friends must be invited to consider afresh the responsibility of all believers to support the work of the Faith through their own means and, further, to manage their financial affairs in the light of the teachings.

Paragraph 46:

What is the vision of the future civilization envisaged by Baha’u’llah?

The future civilization envisaged by Baha’u’llah is a prosperous one, in which the vast resources of the world will be directed towards humanity’s elevation and regeneration, not its debasement and destruction.

How does contributing to the Fund help?

The act of contributing to the Fund, then, is imbued with profound meaning:  it is a practical way of hastening the advent of that civilization, and a necessary one, for as Baha’u’llah Himself has explained, “He Who is the Eternal Truth–exalted be His glory–hath made the fulfilment of every undertaking on earth dependent on material means.”

Baha’is conduct their lives in the midst of a society acutely disordered in its material affairs.

What attitudes are being cultivated through the process of community building?

The process of community building they are advancing in their clusters cultivates a set of attitudes towards wealth and possessions very different from those holding sway in the world.

The habit of regularly giving to the Funds of the Faith–including in-kind contributions particularly in certain places–arises from and reinforces a sense of personal concern for the welfare of the community and the progress of the Cause.

The duty to contribute, just like the duty to teach, is a fundamental aspect of Baha’i identity which strengthens faith.  The sacrificial and generous contributions of the individual believer, the collective consciousness promoted by the community of the needs of the Fund, and the careful stewardship of financial resources exercised by the institutions of the Faith can be regarded as expressions of the love that binds these three actors more closely together.

And ultimately, voluntary giving fosters an awareness that managing one’s financial affairs in accordance with spiritual principles is an indispensable dimension of a life lived coherently.

It is a matter of conscience, a way in which commitment to the betterment of the world is translated into practice.

Paragraph 47:

What do we have in the institution of the Counsellors?

We direct these statements to you in recognition of the unique responsibility that you, your deputies, and their assistants shoulder in helping the friends to advance their understanding in numerous areas, not least, of course, with respect to the dynamics of growth.

As we have previously indicated, in the institution of the Counsellors the Baha’i community has a system through which the lessons learned in the remotest parts of the planet can benefit the worldwide process of learning in which every follower of Baha’u’llah can take part.

What happens with a deeper understanding of the Five Year Plan?

As a progressively deeper understanding of the Five Year Plan emerges among the believers over time, insights that arise from applying the guidance are recognized, articulated, absorbed, and shared.

To whom do we owe a debt of gratitude, and for what act of service?

In this regard, an immense debt of gratitude is owed by the community of the Greatest Name to the International Teaching Centre, which has done so much in recent years, and with such diligence, to lovingly nurture and energetically promulgate a mode of learning that has now become well established.

Paragraph 48:

What do the essential elements of the coming plan require us to understand?

The essential elements of the coming Plan, like those that came before it, are straightforward.  Nevertheless, a profound understanding of its various facets requires an appreciation of the sophisticated set of operations through which a cluster develops.

How can they be understood?

We rely on your institution being so familiar with the relevant guidance that the friends in general, and institutions and their agencies in particular, can depend on you to illuminate their deliberations by calling attention to pertinent considerations.

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What is the role of the Auxiliary Board?

Clearly, however, the need to assist the friends in at least 5,000 clusters where the pattern of action is being intensified will be a considerable challenge, one with implications for your own mode of functioning–but more especially for that of Auxiliary Board members.

Clusters that are in the front ranks of the growth process in their areas will inevitably claim a large share of their time; also, administrative arrangements at the regional level will more frequently require their support.

They are concerned with much of what occurs in the community; attentive both to the development of each stage of the educational process and to the strengthening of the cycles of activity, they promote coherence among the lines of action being advanced in a cluster and fan into flame a passion for teaching.

In the exercise of their responsibility to foster learning and to help the friends enter the arena of service, they draw heavily on the training institute, aspects of whose work align closely with theirs.

But their other duties are equally demanding.  As such, they will need to consider how, in order to fulfil those wide-ranging responsibilities, they can draw on the help of their assistants more extensively and more creatively.

What is the role of the Assistants?

Assistants, of course, may be assigned any task–simple or complex, general or highly specific–and this versatility constitutes a distinctive strength.

While some assistants might be occupied with the development of a local community, others might be given tasks that relate to an entire cluster.

By properly orienting them, guiding them as capacity expands, and gradually increasing their duties, Auxiliary Board members will be able to better exploit the possibilities that exist.

Much is sure to be learned as a result, and you are encouraged to derive insights from the experience of your auxiliaries.

Paragraph 49:

 A period of special potency

What will be required in our systematic pursuit of the Plan in all its dimensions?

The systematic pursuit of the Plan in all its dimensions gives rise to a pattern of collective endeavour distinguished not only for its commitment to service, but also for its attraction to worship.  The intensification of activity which the next five years requires will further enrich the devotional life shared by those who serve side by side in clusters around the world.

This process of enrichment is already much advanced:  witness, for instance, how gatherings for worship have been integrated into the core of community life.

What are devotional meetings?

Devotional meetings are occasions where any soul may enter, inhale the heavenly fragrances, experience the sweetness of prayer, meditate upon the Creative Word, be transported on the wings of the spirit, and commune with the one Beloved.

What are the advantages of devotional gatherings?

Feelings of fellowship and common cause are generated, particularly in the spiritually heightened conversations that naturally occur at such times and through which the “city of the human heart” may be opened.

By convening a gathering for worship at which adults and children of any background are welcome, the spirit of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar is evoked in any locality.

The enhancement of the devotional character of a community also has an effect on the Nineteen Day Feast and can be felt at other times when the friends come together.

Paragraph 50:

What happens during Holy Day commemorations?

Holy Day commemorations hold a special position in this regard.  The Tablets recited, and the prayers, stories, songs, and sentiments voiced–all of them expressions of love for those sacred Figures Whose lives and missions are being remembered–stir the heart and fill the soul with awe and wonder.

What momentous occasions will occur during the coming 5 Year Plan?

During the Five Year Plan about to commence, there will occur two momentous occasions of this kind:  the two-hundred-year anniversaries of the Birth of Baha’u’llah and of the Birth of the Bab in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

How will they be celebrated?

These glorious Festivals will be opportunities for Baha’is in every land to attract the largest possible number of believers, their families, friends, and collaborators, as well as others from the wider society,  to commemorate moments when a Being peerless in creation, a Manifestation of God, was born to the world.

Page 16

What will be the result of celebrating these bicentenaries?

Celebrating these bicentenaries is sure to increase appreciation for how the observance of Holy Days, now according to a calendar that unites the friends of God everywhere, strengthens Baha’i identity.

Paragraph 51:

What other series of anniversaries will occur during the coming years?

Over the coming years, the community will, in fact, encounter a series of anniversaries, concluding with the Centenary of the Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in November 2021, which will close the first century of the Formative Age.

Next year the Baha’i world will mark one hundred years since the first of the Tablets of the Divine Plan flowed from the pen of the Master.  In these fourteen Tablets, revealed during one of humanity’s darkest hours, ‘Abdu’l-Baha laid out a charter for the teaching work that defined its theatre of action as the entire planet.  Held in abeyance until 1937, when the first in a succession of Plans launched at the instigation of the Guardian was assigned to the Baha’is of North America, the Divine Plan has continued to unfold over the decades since as the collective capacity of Baha’u’llah’s followers has grown, enabling them to take on ever-greater challenges.  How wondrous the vision of the Plan’s Author!  Placing before the friends the prospect of a day when the light of His Father’s Revelation would illuminate every corner of the world, He set out not only strategies for achieving this feat but guiding principles and unchanging spiritual requisites.  Every effort made by the friends to systematically propagate the divine teachings traces its origins to the forces set in motion in the Divine Plan.

Paragraph 52:

What will the coming plan call on us to do?

The coming global endeavour to which the friends will be summoned calls for the application of proven strategies, systematic action, informed analysis, and keen insight.

How can the coming plan be described?

Yet above all, it is a spiritual enterprise, and its true character should never be obscured.

The urgency to act is impelled by the world’s desperate condition.

All that the followers of Baha’u’llah have learned in the last twenty years must culminate in the accomplishments of the next five.  The scale of what is being asked of them brings to mind one of His Tablets in which He describes, in striking terms, the challenge entailed in spreading His Cause:

Paragraph 53:

How many the lands that remained untilled and uncultivated; and how many the lands that were tilled and cultivated, and yet remained without water; and how many the lands which, when the harvest time arrived, no harvester came forth to reap!  However, through the wonders of God’s favour and the revelations of His loving-kindness, We cherish the hope that souls may appear who are the embodiments of     heavenly virtue and who will occupy themselves with teaching the Cause of God and training all that dwell on earth.

Paragraph 54:

The systematic efforts of His loved ones throughout the world aim at the fulfilment of the hope thus expressed by the Blessed Perfection.  May He Himself reinforce them at every turn.

 

[signed:  The Universal House of Justice]

 

Study Guide for the Ridvan Message 2015

Note:  The text of the Ridvan Message has not been changed – questions have been inserted to make studying it easier.  You can read the original here

The Universal House of Justice

Ridván 2015

 To the Bahá’ís of the World

Dearly loved Friends,

Paragraph One

 What is visible on the horizon?

The resplendent season of Ridván is at hand, and from the heights to which the community of the Greatest Name has attained, bright prospects are visible on the horizon.

What must emerge in the next twelve months?

A vast terrain has been traversed: new programmes of growth have appeared, and while hundreds more must still emerge in the next twelve months, efforts to set in motion the necessary pattern of activity have already begun in almost every one of the clusters required to reach the 5,000 called for in the Five Year Plan.

What is gaining strength?

Existing programmes are gaining in strength, many showing more clearly what it means for the Cause of God to extend further into the social landscape across a cluster and within a neighbourhood or village.

What is being followed with firmer footsteps and who is setting the pace?

The paths that lead to sustained large-scale expansion and consolidation are being followed with firmer footsteps, valiant youth often setting the pace.

What is becoming more apparent; and more discernable?

Ways in which the society-building power of the Faith can find release in various settings are becoming more apparent, and those defining features that must come to mark the further unfoldment of the growth process in a cluster are becoming gradually discernible.

Paragraph Two

Who is called on to carry out and support this work and what response does it evoke?

The call to carry out and support this work is directed to every follower of Bahá’u’lláh, and it will evoke a response in every heart that aches at the wretched condition of the world, the lamentable circumstances from which so many people are unable to gain relief.

What is the most constructive response to the multiplying ills of a disordered society?

For, ultimately, it is systematic, determined, and selfless action undertaken within the wide embrace of the Plan’s framework that is the most constructive response of every concerned believer to the multiplying ills of a disordered society.

What has become clear over the last year?

Over the last year, it has become clearer still that, in different nations in different ways, the social consensus around ideals that have traditionally united and bound together a people is increasingly worn and spent.

How has the social consensus around ideals that have traditionally united and bound us together changed?

It can no longer offer a reliable defence against a variety of self-serving, intolerant, and toxic ideologies that feed upon discontent and resentment.

What’s happening to the proponents of these destructive doctrines?

With a conflicted world appearing every day less sure of itself, the proponents of these destructive doctrines grow bold and brazen. We recall the unequivocal verdict from the Supreme Pen: “They hasten forward to Hell Fire, and mistake it for light.”

What are well-meaning leaders of nations and people of goodwill struggling to do?

Well-meaning leaders of nations and people of goodwill are left struggling to repair the fractures evident in society and powerless to prevent their spread.

What are the effects of this?

The effects of all this are not only to be seen in outright conflict or a collapse in order. In the distrust that pits neighbour against neighbour and severs family ties, in the antagonism of so much of what passes for social discourse, in the casualness with which appeals to ignoble human motivations are used to win power and pile up riches—in all these lie unmistakable signs that the moral force which sustains society has become gravely depleted.

Paragraph Three

What is reassuring?

Yet there is reassurance in the knowledge that, amidst the disintegration, a new kind of collective life is taking shape which gives practical expression to all that is heavenly in human beings.

How are we able to guard ourselves against the forces of materialism that sap our precious energies?

We have observed how, especially in those places where intensity in teaching and community-building activities has been maintained, the friends have been able to guard themselves against the forces of materialism that risk sapping their precious energies. Not only that, but in managing the various other calls upon their time, they never lose sight of the sacred and pressing tasks before them.

What is required in every community?

Such attentiveness to the needs of the Faith and to humanity’s best interests is required in every community.

How are programs of growth established in previously unopened clusters?

Where a programme of growth has been established in a previously unopened cluster, we see how the initial stirrings of activity arise out of the love for Bahá’u’lláh held in the heart of a committed believer. Notwithstanding the orders of complexity that must eventually be accommodated as a community grows in size, all activity begins with this simple strand of love.

What is needed to sustain the effort?

It is the vital thread from which is woven a pattern of patient and concentrated effort, cycle after cycle, to introduce children, youth, and adults to spiritual ideas; to foster a feeling for worship through gatherings for prayer and devotion; to stimulate conversations that illuminate understanding; to start ever-growing numbers on a lifetime of study of the Creative Word and its translation into deeds; to develop, along with others, capacity for service; and to accompany one another in the exercise of what has been learned.

  • patient and concentrated effort, cycle after cycle
  • introduce children, youth, and adults to spiritual ideas
  • foster a feeling for worship through gatherings for prayer and devotion
  • stimulate conversations that illuminate understanding
  • start ever-growing numbers on a lifetime of study of the Creative Word and its translation into deeds
  • develop, along with others, capacity for service
  • accompany one another in the exercise of what has been learned

What is the House of Justice praying for us?

Beloved friends, loved ones of the Abhá Beauty: We pray for you in earnest on every occasion we present ourselves at His Holy Threshold, that your love for Him may give you the strength to consecrate your lives to His Cause.

Paragraph Four

What deserves special mention?

The rich insights arising from clusters, and from centres of intense activity within them, where the dynamics of community life have embraced large numbers of people deserve special mention.

What enables more and more souls to be systematically brought within the pale of the community’s activities?

We are gratified to see how a culture of mutual support, founded on fellowship and humble service, has quite naturally established itself in such quarters, enabling more and more souls to be systematically brought within the pale of the community’s activities.

What is an emerging reality?

Indeed, in an increasing number of settings the movement of a population towards Bahá’u’lláh’s vision for a new society appears no longer merely as an enthralling prospect but as an emerging reality.

Paragraph Five

What advice are they giving to those of us who live in surroundings where marked progress is yet to occur and who long for change?

We wish to address some additional words to those of you in whose surroundings marked progress is yet to occur and who long for change. Have hope. It will not always be so. Is not the history of our Faith filled with accounts of inauspicious beginnings but marvellous results? How many times have the deeds of a few believers—young or old—or of a single family, or even of a lone soul, when confirmed by the power of divine assistance, succeeded in cultivating vibrant communities in seemingly inhospitable climes? Do not imagine that your own case is inherently any different.

How does change in a cluster happen?

Change in a cluster, be it swift or hard won, flows neither from a formulaic approach nor from random activity; it proceeds to the rhythm of action, reflection, and consultation, and is propelled by plans that are the fruit of experience.

What is a source of abiding joy to the spirit?

Beyond this, and whatever its immediate effects, service to the Beloved is, in itself, a source of abiding joy to the spirit.

What else can we take heart from?

Take heart, too, from the example of your spiritual kin in the Cradle of the Faith, how their constructive outlook, their resilience as a community, and their steadfastness in promoting the Divine Word are bringing about change in their society at the level of thought and deed. God is with you, with each of you.

What do we do in the remaining 12 months of the plan?

In the twelve months that remain of the Plan, let every community advance from its present position to a stronger one.

Paragraph Six

What lays a solid foundation for the endeavours we are being called to undertake in numerous other spheres?

The all-important work of expansion and consolidation lays a solid foundation for the endeavours the Bahá’í world is being called to undertake in numerous other spheres.

What’s being done at the World Centre?

At the Bahá’í World Centre, efforts are intensifying to methodically catalogue and index the content of the thousands of Tablets which constitute that infinitely precious bequest, the Holy Texts of our Faith, held in trust for the benefit of all humankind—this, so as to accelerate the publication of volumes of the Writings, both in their original languages and in English translation. Endeavours to establish eight Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs, sacred Fanes raised up to the glory of God, continue apace. External affairs work at the national level has gained markedly in effectiveness and become increasingly systematic, further stimulated by the release of a document, sent to National Spiritual Assemblies six months ago, which draws on the considerable experience generated over the last two decades and provides an expanded framework for developing these endeavours in the future.

Where are new offices of the Bahá’í International Community being opened?

Meanwhile, two new Offices of the Bahá’í International Community, sisters to its United Nations Office based in New York and Geneva and to its Office in Brussels, have been opened in Addis Ababa and Jakarta, broadening the opportunities for the perspectives of the Cause to be offered at the international level in Africa and Southeast Asia.

How are National Assemblies building up their administrative capacity?

Often prompted by the demands of growth, a range of National Assemblies are building up their administrative capacity, visible in their thoughtful stewardship of the resources available to them, their efforts to become intimately familiar with the conditions of their communities, and their vigilance in ensuring that the operations of their National Offices grow ever stronger . . .

What new office is being opened at the World Centre?

. . . the need to systematize the impressive body of knowledge now accumulating in this area has led to the creation at the World Centre of the Office for the Development of Administrative Systems.

What new advisory board is being established?

Initiatives for social action of various kinds continue to multiply in many countries, enabling much to be learned about how the wisdom enshrined in the Teachings can be applied to improve social and economic circumstances; so promising is this field that we have established a seven-member International Advisory Board to the Office of Social and Economic Development, introducing the next stage in the evolution of that Office. Three members of the Board will also serve as the Office’s coordinating team and be resident in the Holy Land.

Paragraph Seven

What are we being called upon to do?

At this Ridván, then, while we see much to be done, we see many ready to do it. In thousands of clusters, neighbourhoods, and villages, fresh springs of faith and assurance are pouring forth, cheering the spirits of those touched by their reviving waters. In places, the flow is a steady stream, in some, already a river. Now is not the moment for any soul to linger upon the bank—let all lend themselves to the onward surge.

 

[signed: The Universal House of Justice]

Copyright © Bahá’í International Community

A Study Guide for the 2014 Ridvan Message

Photo by Marco Abrar

 

For this year’s Ridvan Message, I have taken every sentence in order, and asked a question to reflect on it.  Not a word from the message has been omitted, nor has anything been taken out of order.  Each idea is presented exactly as written.

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE

Ridvan 2014

To the Baha’is ofthe World

Dearly loved Friends,

Paragraph One

What has happened in the first three years of the current plan?

A full three years have passed since the inception of the current stage in the unfoldment of the Divine Plan, an undertaking that binds together the followers of Bahá’u’lláh in one united spiritual endeavour.

How much time is left in this plan?

Just two years separate the friends of God from its fixed conclusion.

What are the 2 essential movements which propel the process of growth?

The two essential movements which continue to propel the process of growth—the steady flow of participants through the sequence of training institute courses and the movement of clusters along a continuum of development . . .

How have these been reinforced?

. . . have both been immensely reinforced by the outpouring of energy released at the youth conferences held last year.

What capacity have we acquired and what will happen as a result?

The expanded capacity the Bahá’í world has acquired for mobilizing large numbers of young people in the field of service can now yield further fruit.

What are the critical tasks for the time that remains?

For in the time that remains, the critical tasks of strengthening existing programmes of growth and beginning new ones urgently beckon.

What are we well positioned to accomplish?

The community of the Greatest Name is well positioned, before the expiration of this period, to add to the clusters where such programmes have already emerged the two thousand that remain of the goal.

Paragraph Two

What is the House of Justice glad to see?

How glad we are to see that this endeavour is being vigorously advanced across the far-flung regions of the globe, and in a diversity of circumstances and settings, in clusters already numbering some three thousand.

What is happening in the clusters around the world?

Many clusters are at a point where momentum is being generated through the implementation of a few simple lines of action. In others, after successive cycles of activity, the number of individuals taking initiative within the framework of the Plan has increased and the pitch of activity intensified

What makes souls more readily attracted to participate?

As the quality of the process of spiritual education is enhanced through experience, souls are more readily attracted to participate in it.

What can we do when there is a lull in activity or an obstacle to the way forward?

From time to time, there may be a lull in activity or an obstacle to the way forward; searching consultation on the reasons for the impasse, combined with patience, courage, and perseverance, enables momentum to be regained.

Where programs of growth are increasing in scope and complexity, what is happening with the 3 protagonists?

In more and more clusters, the programme of growth is increasing in scope and complexity, commensurate with the rising capacity of the Plan’s three protagonists—the individual, the community, and the institutions of the Faith—to create a mutually supportive environment.

What is happening in clusters where a hundred or more individuals are facilitating growth?

And we are delighted that, as anticipated, there are a growing number of clusters where a hundred or more individuals are now facilitating the engagement of a thousand or more in weaving a pattern of life, spiritual, dynamic, transformative.

What is underlying the process from the start?

Underlying the process even from the start is, of course, a collective movement towards the vision of material and spiritual prosperity set forth by Him Who is the Lifegiver of the World.

What happens when such large numbers are involved?

But when such large numbers are involved, the movement of an entire population becomes discernible.

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Where is the movement especially in evidence?

This movement is especially in evidence in those clusters where a local Mashriqu’l-Adhkár is to be established.

What area is the House of Justice highlighting?

One such, by way of example, is in Vanuatu. The friends who reside on the island of Tanna . . .

How has the planned House of Worship there contributing to teaching?

. . . have made a supreme effort to raise consciousness of the planned House of Worship, and have already engaged no less than a third of the island’s 30,000 inhabitants in an expanding conversation about its significance in a variety of ways.

How has the ability to sustain elevated conversations among so many people been refined?

The ability to sustain an elevated conversation among so many people has been refined through years of experience sharing the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and extending the reach of a vibrant training institute.

How are junior youth groups thriving?

Junior youth groups on the island are particularly thriving, urged on by the support of village chiefs who see how the participants are spiritually empowered.

What have the young people achieved?

Encouraged by the unity and dedication that exist among them, these young people have not only dispelled the languor of passivity in themselves but have, through various practical projects, found means to work for the betterment of their community, and as a result, those of all ages, not least their own parents, have been galvanized into constructive action.

What is happening with the Local Spiritual Assemblies?

Among the believers and the wider society, the bounty of being able to turn to a Local Spiritual Assembly for guidance and for the resolution of difficult situations is being recognized, and in turn, the decisions of the Spiritual Assemblies are increasingly characterized by wisdom and sensitivity.

What happens when the elements of the Plan’s framework for action are combined into a coherent whole?

There is much here to indicate that, when the elements of the Plan’s framework for action are combined into a coherent whole, the impact on a population can be profound.

What are the friends of Vanuatu exploring?

And it is against the background of ongoing expansion and consolidation—the thirtieth cycle of the intensive programme of growth has recently concluded—that the friends are actively exploring, with the rest of the island’s inhabitants, what it means for a Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, a “collective centre for men’s souls”, to be raised up in their midst. With the active support of traditional leaders, Tanna islanders have offered no less than a hundred design ideas for the Temple, demonstrating the extent to which the House of Worship has captured imaginations, and opening up enthralling prospects for the influence it is set to exert on the lives lived beneath its shade.

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What is happening in the advanced clusters?

This heartening account has its counterpart in numerous advanced clusters where the implications of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings are being brought to bear on the conditions of life in neighbourhoods and villages.

What and how are people learning?

In each, a people, increasingly aware of the Person of Bahá’u’lláh, is learning, through reflection on experience, consultation, and study, how to act on the truths enshrined in His Revelation, such that the widening circle of spiritual kindred is ever more closely bound together by ties of collective worship and service.

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What are the communities that have progressed furthest doing?

In many ways, the communities that have progressed furthest are tracing an inviting path for others to follow.

What is fostering progress along the path of development?

Yet whatever the level of activity in a cluster, it is the capacity for learning among the local friends, within a common framework, that fosters progress along the path of development.

Whose contribution is most important?

Everyone has a share in this enterprise; the contribution of each serves to enrich the whole.

What qualities exist in the most dynamic clusters, irrespective of the resources the community possesses or the number of activities being undertaken?

The most dynamic clusters are those in which, irrespective of the resources the community possesses or the number of activities being undertaken, the friends appreciate that their task is to identify what is required for progress to occur—the nascent capacity that must be nurtured, the new skill that must be acquired, the initiators of a fledgling effort who must be accompanied, the space for reflection that must be cultivated, the collective endeavour that must be coordinated—and then find creative ways in which the necessary time and resources can be made available to achieve it.

The friends appreciate that their task is to

  • identify what is required for progress to occur
  • the nascent capacity that must be nurtured
  • the new skill that must be acquired
  • the initiators of a fledgling effort who must be accompanied
  • the space for reflection that must be cultivated
  • the collective endeavour that must be coordinated
  • find creative ways in which the necessary time and resources can be made available to achieve it.

What is the bounty in each set of circumstances presenting challenges?

The very fact that each set of circumstances presents its own challenges is enabling every community not simply to benefit from what is being learned in the rest of the Bahá’í world but also to add to that body of knowledge.

What does awareness of this reality free us from?

Awareness of this reality frees one from the fruitless search for a rigid formula for action while still allowing the insights gleaned in diverse settings to inform the process of growth as it takes a particular shape in one’s own surroundings.

How does this relate to our conceptions of success and failure?

This entire approach is completely at odds with narrow conceptions of “success” and “failure” that breed freneticism or paralyse volition.

What is needed?

Detachment is needed. When effort is expended wholly for the sake of God then all that occurs belongs to Him and every victory won in His Name is an occasion to celebrate His praise.

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What is the relationship between effort exerted and heavenly aid vouchsafed?

So much in the Writings of our Faith describes the relationship between effort exerted and the heavenly aid vouchsafed in response: “If only ye exert the effort,” is the Master’s reassurance in one of His Tablets, “it is certain that these splendours will shine out, these clouds of mercy will shed down their rain, these life-giving winds will rise and blow, this sweet-smelling musk will be scattered far and wide.”

What is the House of Justice praying for on our behalf in the Holy Shrines?

In our frequent visits to the Holy Shrines, we earnestly entreat the Almighty on your behalf that He may sustain and strengthen you, that your endeavours to reach out to those yet unacquainted with the divine teachings and confirm them in His Cause may be richly blessed, and that your reliance on His limitless favours may be unwavering.  Never are you absent from our prayers, and never will we cease remembering in our supplications your consecrated acts of faithfulness.

What is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s emphatic call to action?

As we contemplate the imperatives that lie before the followers of the Blessed Beauty over the next two years, the Master’s emphatic call to action is a spur to the spirit: “Tear asunder the veils, remove the obstacles, proffer the life-giving waters, and point out the path of salvation.”

  • tear asunder the veils
  • remove the obstacles
  • proffer the life-giving waters
  • point out the path of salvation.

 

[signed: The Universal House of Justice]