‘power and wisdom’

“Plato prophesied that the human race would not live in happiness until power and wisdom came together, not in two hearts but in one and the same heart, for then the golden age would return once more”.

~ Marsilio Ficino


‘All are the Inhabitants of One Planet’

Monica Stewart ‘Unity’

In this age where politicians seem determined to divide the peoples of the East and the West through the promotion of fruitless conflict in places such as Afghanistan. Iraq and Libya I find it moving to read the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá  on the union of East and West.

‘Exert yourselves with heart and soul so that, perchance, through your efforts the light of universal peace may shine and this darkness of estrangement and enmity may be dispelled from amongst men, that all men may become as one family and consort together in love and kindness, that the East may assist the West and the West give help to the East, for all are the inhabitants of one planet, the people of one original native land and the flocks of one Shepherd’.

5 December 1912 Talk on Day of Departure On Board Steamship Celtic, New York

‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Unitarians

During his visit to the United States in 1912 `Abdu’l-Bahá addressed a number of Unitarian congregations on spiritual subjects. These teachings are as profound today as they were one hundred years ago when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá expressed them. On 24th May 1912 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed an audience at the Free Religious Association, or Unitarian Conference in Boston, Massachusetts on the subject of the nature of creation and spiritual progress.

Creation is the expression of motion. Motion is life. A moving object is a living object, whereas that which is motionless and inert is as dead. All created forms are progressive in their planes, or kingdoms of existence, under the stimulus of the power or spirit of life. The universal energy is dynamic. Nothing is stationary in the material world of outer phenomena or in the inner world of intellect and consciousness.Religion is the outer expression of the divine reality. Therefore, it must be living, vitalized, moving and progressive. If it be without motion and non progressive, it is without the divine life; it is dead. The divine institutes are continuously active and evolutionary; therefore, the revelation of them must be progressive and continuous. All things are subject to reformation. This is a century of life and renewal…

The Promulgation of Universal Peace

This was followed on the 9th June 1912 by a talk at the Unitarian Church on Fifteenth Street and Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá presented was that that of the ‘Marriage of East and West.’

I have come from distant countries of the Orient where the lights of heaven have ever shone forth, from regions where the Manifestations of God have appeared and the radiance and power of God have been revealed to mankind. The purpose and intention of my visit is that, perchance, a bond of unity and agreement may be established between the East and West, that divine love may encompass all nations, divine radiance enlighten both continents and the bounties of the Holy Spirit revivify the body of the world. Therefore, I supplicate the threshold of God that the Orient and Occident may become as one, that the various peoples and religions be unified and souls be blended as the waves of one sea. May they become as trees, flowers and roses which adorn and beautify the same garden.

The Promulgation of Universal Peace

On 16th June 1912 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá  addressed a meeting at Fourth Unitarian Church Beverly Road, Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York on the subject of the physical and spiritual oneness of humankind and the limitation of adhering to national, sectarian or political identities.

This is a Unitarian church, and in the Arabic tongue this day may well be called Yawm-al’Ittihád (“the Unitarian Day”). Therefore, I consider it appropriate to speak to you upon the subject of unity. What is real unity? When we observe the human world, we find various collective expressions of unity therein. For instance, man is distinguished from the animal by his degree, or kingdom. This comprehensive distinction includes all the posterity of Adam and constitutes one great household or human family, which may be 191 considered the fundamental or physical unity of mankind…The unity which is productive of unlimited results is first a unity of mankind which recognizes that all are sheltered beneath the overshadowing glory of the All-Glorious, that all are servants of one God; for all breathe the same atmosphere, live upon the same earth, move beneath the same heavens, receive effulgence from the same sun and are under the protection of one God. This is the most great unity, and its results are lasting if humanity adheres to it; but mankind has hitherto violated it, adhering to sectarian or other limited unities such as racial, patriotic or unity of self-interests; therefore, no great results have been forthcoming…

The Promulgation of Universal Peace

This theme of the oneness of humanity was further elaborated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on 14th July 1912 at All Souls Unitarian Church Fourth Avenue and Twentieth Street, New York.

Today I wish to speak to you upon the subject of the oneness of humanity, for in this great century the most important accomplishment is the unity of mankind. Although in former centuries and times this subject received some measure of mention and consideration, it has now become the paramount issue and question in the religious and political conditions of the world. History shows that throughout the past there has been continual warfare and strife among the various nations, peoples and sects; but now—praise be to God!—in this century of illumination, hearts are inclined toward agreement and fellowship, and minds are thoughtful upon the question of the unification of mankind. There is an emanation of the universal consciousness today which clearly indicates the dawn of a great unity.

The Promulgation of Universal Peace

Material And Spiritual Progress

It seems to me that humanity’s development is out of kilter. We have made many impressive advances in science and technology in the last one hundred and fifty years yet our spiritual development lags far behind. Sometimes our use of technology brings to mind the image of a loaded gun in the hands of a toddler. `Abdu’l-Bahá writes eloquently about the need for spiritual and material progress to be harmonised.

Now this luminous age has come, bringing with it wonderful civilization and material progress. Men’s intellects have widened, their perceptions grown, but alas, in spite of all this, fresh blood is being spilt day by day. Look at the present Turco-Italian war; consider for a moment the fate of these unhappy people! How many have been killed during this sad time? How many homes are ruined, wives desolate, and children orphans! And what is to be gained in exchange for all this anguish and heartache? Only a corner of the earth! This all shows that material progress alone does not tend to uplift man. On the contrary, the more he becomes immersed in material progress, the more does his spirituality become obscured. In times gone by progress on the material plane was not so rapid, neither was there bloodshed in such profusion. In ancient warfare there were no cannons, no guns, no dynamite, no shells, no torpedo boats, no battleships, no submarines. Now, owing to material civilization, we have all these inventions, and war goes from bad to worse! Europe itself has become like one immense arsenal, full of explosives, and may God prevent its ignition—for, should this happen, the whole world would be involved. I want to make you understand that material progress and spiritual progress are two very different things, and that only if material progress goes hand in hand with spirituality can any real progress come about

This passage seems especially relevant today. Despite our scientific prowess we appear to be engaged in a growing number of futile military interventions- serving only to increase the sum of human suffering. Why not put that energy to more positive use?

The Fundamental Purpose Of Religion

I love this definition of the purpose of religion from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh – to bring us together- not to be used as an excuse for division…

The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. Suffer it not to become a source of dissension and discord, of hate and enmity

The Tabernacle Of Unity 2.34

‘To Treat The Whole World As Sacred’

An estimated 100 million people make some kind of pilgrimage every year, some for a few hours, others for days or months.To address the environmental impact of these journeys – and to assist the world’s holy places to become as environmentally sustainable as possible – a new network has been launched which brings together pilgrim sites from 10 faith traditions. They range from the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, and the Armenian Orthodox holy city of Etchmiadzin, to Jerusalem – a major pilgrimage destination for the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. The Baha’i World Centre – and the city of Haifa, Israel, where it is located – have also become founding members of the Green Pilgrimage Network. Last year alone, the Baha’i holy places attracted around 750,000 pilgrims and visitors. “The Green Pilgrimage Network will ask the faithful to live, during the most intense of religious experiences, in a faith-consistent way,” said Martin Palmer, Secretary-General of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), which has established the Network in association with WWF. “To travel to a holy place in such a way as to treat the whole world as sacred is to be a true pilgrim,” said Mr. Palmer.

Source: http://news.bahai.org/story/868

The Economic Crisis And Human Nature

It seems to me that the current economic crisis challenges a century of materialist assumptions about the motivation of individuals and their relationship to each other. I find the following passage from the Bahá’í International Community’s Contribution to the 18th Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development in 2010 very illuminating in this regard.

The question of human nature has an important place in the discourse on sustainable consumption and production as it prompts us to reexamine, at the deepest levels, who we are and what our purpose is in life. The human experience is essentially spiritual in nature: it is rooted in the inner reality—or what some call the ‘soul’—that we all share in common. The culture of consumerism, however, has tended to reduce human beings to competitive, insatiable consumers of goods and to objects of manipulation by the market. Commonly held views have assumed the existence of an intractable conflict between what people really want (i.e. to consume more) and what humanity needs (i.e. equitable access to resources). How, then, can we resolve the paralyzing contradiction that, on the one hand, we desire a world of peace and prosperity, while, on the other, much of economic and psychological theory depicts human beings as slaves to self-interest? The faculties needed to construct a more just and sustainable social order—moderation, justice, love, reason, sacrifice and service to the common good—have too often been dismissed as naïve ideals. Yet, it is these, and related, qualities that must be harnessed to overcome the traits of ego, greed, apathy and violence, which are often rewarded by the market and political forces driving current patterns of unsustainable consumption and production.

Source: ‘Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism’ Bahá’í International Community, United Nations Office

Rio Religious Freedom Walk

Religious Freedom Walk, Rio 18.9.11

I am really impressed by the solidarity shown by Brazillians of all backgrounds with the oppressed Baha’i community in Iran.

The ongoing persecution of Iran’s Baha’i community featured prominently as 25,000 people from Brazil’s diverse traditions marched to defend the right to religious freedom and call for justice.Established in 2008 by Rio’s Committee for Combating Religious Intolerance (CCIR), the Religious Freedom Walk initially aimed to call attention to the prejudice faced in Brazil by followers of traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Since then, the march has become an annual event, growing from 2,000 participants at the first rally to this year’s record figure. Yesterday, Afro-Brazilian religious leaders were joined by Roman Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Buddhists and Baha’is, all united in their aim to draw attention to intolerance.
Baha’is distributed 1,000 yellow vests bearing the slogan, “Today, we are followers of all religions” – a sentiment that was happily worn by participants from the different communities.

Source: http://news.bahai.org/story/850

‘The Earth Is But One Country’

The last twenty years has seen the world ever more closely linked by trading and financial networks which now seem on the brink of disruption because of years of unfettered greed and mismanagement. In all likelihood as these networks are disrupted there will be a return of nationalism and parochialism as anxious populations seek to find some stability in the economic and social chaos which results.

However the fact remains that we are all one human family and the answer to our problems are to be found in unity and not in division- the unity that comes from knowing that we are all brothers and sisters on one planet- not just buyers and sellers in a global market place. In the words of Bahá’u’lláh

“The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens”

Preferences And Principles

It seems to me that we live in a materialist society that encourages us to exercise subjective choice as consumers but discourages us from having objective ideals and values as human beings. Advertisers use consumer preference to promote the illusion of liberty whereas in reality the choice is merely between buying the same model in different colours.

The New Zealand educationalist John  Heenan wrote that

Preferences and principles are opposites. Preferences are subjective while principles are objective. Values, that are preferences, are something “to have,” but values that are principles, are something “to be.”

We may not always live up to our ideals but I believe it is by trying to apply our guiding principles in everyday life that we are ennobled and our lives are given meaning.  It is one of the reasons that I am grateful to have been touched by the teachings of Baha’u’llah at an early age.

Baha’u’llah teaches that there is one God who has revealed His will through progressive revelation by his Divine Messengers. The common objective of these Divine Messengers is to promote the spiritual and social development of the human race. Humanity has reached such a stage of development that it’s unification in one peaceful world community is now possible. In order to promote this peaceful world community Baha’u’llah enunciated principles that include

  • That humankind is one family
  • That the religions have one common divine source
  • That true religion is consistent with reason and the quest for scientific understanding
  • That extremes of poverty and wealth should be avoided
  • That universal education should be made available to all-an education both spiritual and material in character
  • That all forms of prejudice should be left behind
  • That the sexes are equal, ‘the wings of a single bird’
  • That a world commonwealth of nations should be created, founded on principles of peace and justice

Luxembourg Government Praises Baha’i Community

The Luxembourg Baha’i community’s involvement in society has been praised by a high-ranking government minister on a special visit to the national Baha’i centre.Minister of Finance Luc Frieden made his remarks at a celebration marking National Day, the official birthday of His Royal Highness Henri, Grand-Duke of Luxembourg.Citing the importance of the values of tolerance and unity, the minister expressed the government’s gratitude to the Baha’is for their commitment to the life of the country.”The value of a religious community, or any other organization, should be a reflection of the contribution it makes towards the development of society,” said Mr. Frieden. To that end, Mr. Frieden spoke of the importance of people being involved in the community in which they live, “looking more to the common good and the effects of their actions on others.”Amir Saberin, the chair of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Luxembourg described the occasion as “very historic and significant for us.”

Source: BWNS

‘Render Unto Caesar…’

On our small island in the United Kingdom we have just held elections for no less than three national assemblies-  in Wales  Scotland and Northern Ireland. Much as I respect the democratic process I am concerned that the current system of party politics works on the principle of divide and rule rather than bringing people together.

One of the teachings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá  which I consider particularly wise in this regard is the advice not to become involved in partisan politics.  For example in ‘Paris Talks’  he says

Politics are occupied with the material things of life. Religious teachers should not invade the realm of politics; they should concern themselves with the spiritual education of the people; they should ever give good counsel to men, trying to serve God and human kind; they should endeavour to awaken spiritual aspiration, and strive to enlarge the understanding and knowledge of humanity, to improve morals, and to increase the love for justice. This is in accordance with the Teaching of Bahá’u’lláh. In the Gospel also it is written, ‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s’.

Source: http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/PT/pt-50.html

‘Consider What Is Happening In Tripoli’

Given the current bloodshed in Libya I find ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s reference to the 1911-12 Italo-Turkish War between the Kingdom of Italy and the Ottoman Empire to be most poignant.

Consider what is happening in Tripoli; how the poor are being killed and the blood of the helpless is being shed upon both sides; children made fatherless, fathers lamenting the death of their sons, mothers bewailing the loss of dear ones. And what is the benefit after all? Nothing  conceivable. Is it therefore justifiable? The domestic animals do not manifest hatred and cruelty toward each other; that is the attribute of the wild and ferocious beasts. In a flock of one thousand sheep you will witness no bloodshed. Numberless species of birds are peaceful in flocks. Wolves, lions, tigers are ferocious because it is their natural and necessary means for obtaining food. Man has no need of such ferocity; his food is provided in other ways. Therefore it is evident that warfare, cruelty and bloodshed in the kingdom of man are caused by human greed, hatred and selfishness. The kings and rulers of nations enjoy luxury and ease in their palaces and send the common people to the battlefield; offer them as the food and targets of cannon. Each day they invent new instruments for the more complete destruction of the foundations of the human race. They are callous and merciless toward their fellow-creatures.

Souce: Foundations of World Unity, Pages 22-27: fr1

‘The Green And Goodly Tree’

The tree of life is a recurring motif in many traditions.  For example in Norse mythology, the universe-spanning tree Yggdrasil connects the nine worlds of Norse cosmology.

‘Three roots there are | that three ways run

‘Neath the ash-tree Yggdrasil;

‘Neath the first lives Hel, | ‘neath the second the frost-giants,

‘Neath the last are the lands of men’.

Source: The Ballad Of Grimnir

The Book of Genesis refers to a tree planted by God in the Garden of Eden the fruit of which confers immortality. Along with the tree of life grows the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

‘Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.

Genesis 2:8-17 New International Version (NIV)

‘Trees of Life’ are also important symbols in modern paganism-

‘The trees are cosmic maps of the Otherworlds our ancestors recognised. They are also called Trees of Life – all life, not just human. The more familiar “wheel of the year” showing the elements and compass points is a flat diagram of earth. World trees must be thought of in 3-D. The tree is a living cosmic axis with its roots in the Underworld, linking with the trunk on the soil of our Earth and its branches in the air of the Otherworld of spirit’.

Source: http://www.whitedragon.org.uk/articles/ygg.htm

I am personally struck by the amount of tree imagery in the writings of Baha’u’llah.  Some examples of this imagery include the appearance of the tree as symbols of spiritual renewal, wisdom, the unity of mankind and the relationship of God and his Manifestation. For example-

‘Cast into the fire the tree that hath rot and dried up, and abide under the shadow of the green and goodly Tree, and partake of the fruit thereof.’

‘When the channel of the human soul is cleansed of all worldly and impeding attachments, it will unfailingly perceive the breath of the Beloved across immeasurable distances, and will, led by its perfume, attain and enter the City of Certitude. Therein he will discern the wonders of His ancient Wisdom, and will perceive all the hidden teachings from the rustling leaves of the Tree that flourisheth in that City’.

‘Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship’.

‘All comparisons and likenesses fail to do justice to the Tree of Thy Revelation, and every way is barred to the comprehension of the Manifestation of Thy Self and the Day Spring of Thy Beauty.… these Birds of the celestial Throne are all sent down from the heaven of the Will of God, and as they all arise to proclaim His irresistible Faith, they, therefore, are regarded as one soul and the same person. For they all drink from the one Cup of the love of God, and all partake of the fruit of the same Tree of Oneness’.

Source: Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah

Baha’is Participate In World Religions Summit

Susanne Tamas, centre, a delegate from the Canadian Baha'i community, participates in the World Religions Summit 2010. Photograph by Louis Brunet.

This years’ G8 meeting was also the forum for the ‘The World Religions Summit’ 2010 which assembled participants from all of the world’s major faiths. I am pleased to learn that for the first time this included representatives of the Baha’i community. The 80 representatives of the various faith communities reaffirmed their commitment to

  • demonstrate solidarity with the poor and vulnerable in our society and the globe;
  • monitor the compliance of our governments in meeting the Millennium Development Goals and, whenever possible, hold them publicly accountable for such compliance;
  • confront consumerism, reduce consumption and change our lifestyle to give testimony to better stewardship and live more lightly on the Earth;
  • grow the collaboration of faith traditions to provide leadership, research and action, work to engage our own communities on the issues, and maintain continuous consultation and evaluation of these global political summits in the coming years while building political support for the changes we seek.
  • cultivate the positive peacebuilding influence of religion and invest in building the capacity of our communities to participate in peacebuilding and peacekeeping activities;
  • promote co-existence among different religious and ethnic communities while welcoming immigrants and refugees; and
  • grow the collaboration of faith traditions to provide leadership, research and action, work to engage our own communities on the issues, and maintain continuous consultation and evaluation of these global political summits in the coming years while building political support for the changes we seek.

Given the importance of acting upon this agenda I am reminded of the words of Bahá’u’lláh who said ‘let deeds not words be your adorning’. I am also concious that the global outcome is the sum total of our individual actions. (With a little help from the Almighty of course..).

Day Of Action For Human Rights In Iran

I am interested to learn that non-partisan human rights group United4Iran is coordinating an international day of action to highlight the dire situation in Iran.

On June 12 (22 Khordad), the global community, international human rights NGOs, grassroots organizers, artists, academics, and more are organizing a global day of action to highlight a year of crackdown and human rights violations in Iran. The day will include online advocacy campaigns, as well as local events in 60 cities around the world. It will focus on prisoners of conscience and each city will adopt & advocate for one prisoner of conscience.

Source: United4Iran

Prehistoric Unity In Diversity

I find it heartening that recent research suggests Neanderthals and modern humans interbred http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8660940.stm It is a wonderful image of ‘unity in diversity’ unlike previous theories of conflict between the two groups. It brings to mind the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Consider the flowers of a garden. Though differing in kind, color, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm and addeth unto their beauty. How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruit, the branches and the trees of that garden  were all of the same shape and color! Diversity of hues, form and shape enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof.