Saturday, March 22, 2008

Making Our Own Way

In spite of the corporate emphasis of the administrative Baha'i community, I've always felt that the Writings of Baha'u'llah were incredibly supportive -- indeed, they insist upon -- the individual's spiritual quest. I've found that this aspect of my Baha'i life has become even more important since I became unenrolled -- there are no assembly meetings, or plans, or any of that. There's just Baha'u'llah and me.

There are times I think being an unenrolled Baha'i is a matter of temperament. Some people are naturally introverted, others extroverted -- and they really don't understand each other too well. The extrovert sees the introvert "doing nothing", not knowing that the mind and the internal world can be very busy indeed. The introvert finds the rush of external activity a burden, and one that is often devoid of meaning. That doesn't make either way "right"; it's just a difference. For some, it would be very difficult to follow a spiritual path without having support, and face-to-face community. For others, tranquility and solitude are necessary to hear the still, small voice of God. If you can relate to the sayings "The kingdom of heaven is within you" and "Hell is other people", then being a Baha'i on your own probably doesn't seem like such a bad thing.

Baha'u'llah makes room for us. He absolutely forbids taqlid -- the blind following of clerical authority -- and exhorts us to "see with your own eyes". The Muslim congregational prayer is replaced by the individual choice of three different prayers, and such a light worship requirement that it is easy for the individual to create what works for him/her. Again and again, he exhorts us to "ponder and reflect", turning us in on our own hearts and minds.

In my evening devotions tonight, I just happened to come upon this: It is incumbent on one who journeys unto God and who emigrates for his sake to sever himself from all who are in the heavens and on earth, and to restrain his sould from all save him.[Gems of the Mysteries, Juan Cole translation] This, of course, is a theme that Baha'u'llah returns to again and again. And while may be possible to find detachment in the whirlwind of social affairs, I have a hard time seeing how.

One of my favorite verses about the power of individual contemplation is this: My friends, you are the wellsprings of my own discourse. In every spring, a droplet from the heavenly stream of divine meaning wells up. With the hand of certainty, cleanse these springs of the pollution of unfounded judgments and illusions. In this way, might you yourselves give convincing and unassailable answers to the sorts of questions that have been posed. In this greatest of dispensations, all must appear with branches of knowledge and sayings of wisdom.[Tablet of the Son, Juan Cole translation]

So, we are the wellsprings of His discourse -- we just have to work on cleansing the spring. And we have to do that ourselves.


David Haslip said...

Hi Karen,

I'll start off by saying that I'm a 22 year old Baha'i, born in to the Faith and naturally introverted, so you can probably figure out that I'll have some bias here, either because of age or having been raised a Baha'i. Those points excluded I wanted to share something with you.

I was talking with my dad about the reasons we need religion, when many in my generation feel that if they simply lived a good life that it would be sufficient, that religion isn't necessary.

Of course I didn't agree with that, but didn't have an answer either. The answer he gave dealt with one of the purposes of being a Baha'i: to build the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh and shape it in the direction he has instructed.

He pointed out that while by simply being a good person you may be preventing additional harm, you can never be part of the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, the force that will be responsible for bringing light to the darkness in this world. It's quite a remarkable thing to be apart of.

I really enjoyed your statement on extroverted and introverted people, so I know you are very smart. I just question if you see yourself as apart of building this World Order of Bahá'u'lláh?

So much of our teachings and guidance are related to how we should treat others, that we completely transform our personal lives. When we build that guidance into the framework of what the Universal House of Justice is asking of us, then we are able to use the skills Bahá'u'lláh has asked us to gain towards building His civilization on Earth.

It is only through unity that we will change the world.

Baha'i love,

SteveMarshallDunedin said...

Hi David,

If you'd like a detailed answer, I suggest that you check out A Theology of the State from the Baha'i Teachings and Towards the Enlightened Society, both by Sen McGlinn.

As Sen says, "The basic unit of society is not the church, the state, or the family, but the individual."

Karen said...

Dear David,

Thank you for the excellent question! As I was working on the answer, I decided that it really deserves a seperate blog entry. So, stay tuned and I'll have your answer soon.

Love, Karen