Sunday, October 14, 2018
“This is not a Cause which may be made a plaything for your idle fancies, nor is it a field for the foolish and faint of heart. By God, this is the arena of insight and detachment, of vision and upliftment, where none may spur on their chargers save the valiant horsemen of the Merciful, who have severed all attachment to the world of being. These, truly, are they that render God victorious on earth, and are the dawning-places of His sovereign might amidst mankind.”
(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas: 84)
Consultation is a very specific way to arrive at the truth, and one should enter into the process of it knowing the responsibilities and qualities required to make it work, “qualities of an enlightened citizenry, able to construct a unified world civilization”, as the House of Justice stated. There are responsibilities to have the prerequisite spiritual qualities of love, fellowship, purity of motive, humility, detachment, and the like, in place prior to consulting. Within consultation there are intellectual responsibilities to speak the truth of one’s opinion and to acknowledge another’s opinion, to be tolerant of other views even if they oppose one’s own, and not to ridicule or censure another’s thought, and to see consultation as the building of a consensus of opinion, a single reality of thoughts, views and feelings. There are social and moral responsibilities to act in concert and obedience to the decision rendered. Finally, there are responsibilities to the overarching principle of unity on the part of all to be humble and accepting of the truth revealed in action, whether the decision was correct or not, for in unity is social protection, moral guidance and attraction of divine confirmation.
But even saying all this about our role in consultation, we should remember that inspired consultation goes on not just in the divine Presence but with It. As with all things in this Day of God, there can be an intermingling of the human and the holy, as Painter, paint and canvas. Consultation works because Baha’u’llah is the hidden participant, the aid-giver to whoever carries out His counsels. And ‘Abdu’l-Baha, for example, promises that: “Every meeting which is organized for the purpose of unity and concord will be conducive to changing strangers into friends, enemies into associates, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá will be present in His heart and soul with that meeting.” (The Compilation of Compilations vol. I: 99)
But, too, in words and phrases such as “as it is in unity the truth will be revealed and the wrong made right.” Or: “surrender to His Providence, in whatever way it may be revealed”, and, “not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed” and, finally, in the explicit promise of divine aid and assistance, so long as unity is the human condition, we see the undying Spirit of the Manifestation of God present and working.
Because consultation is so central to discovering truth, to the harmony of human thought and to the maintenance of unity in the process of building vibrant forms of community, and since human beings are spiritually interconnected so closely, consultation helps create, as one of its results, what the House of Justice calls “powers multiplied in unified action.” “Furthermore, those who enter the Faith must be integrated into vibrant local communities, characterized by tolerance and love and guided by a strong sense of purpose and collective will, environments in which the capacities of all components—men, women, youth and children—are developed and their powers multiplied in unified action.” (The Universal House of Justice, 1995 Dec 26, Message to Continental Board of Counsellors re Four Year Plan, p. 2) This gives the Bahá’i Community an unparalleled moral driving force in human society.
Yet another benefit of consultation is set out by Baha’u’llah in the following statement: “No power can exist except through unity. No welfare and no well-being can be attained except through consultation.” (Consultation: Compilation of Compilations v. 1: 93) These are intimately related and connected since “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah: 286)
One of the greatest of His counsels is to engage in consultation on any and all matters, for, as we read, “an age that sees the people of the world increasingly gaining access to information of every kind and to a diversity of ideas will find justice asserting itself as the ruling principle of successful social organization." (The Prosperity of Humankind: Section II para: 1) But to fully embody this quality of justice “a fundamental redefinition of human relationships is called for... Central to the task of reconceptualizing the system of human relationships is the process that Bahá’u’lláh refers to as consultation.” (The Prosperity of Humankind: Section III para: 3) And: “The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men.” (Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 66)
We return a last time to spiritual principles, the divine knowledge in the human world. These are not a system of abstract philosophical concepts, nor a new legal code bound in thick, black volumes sitting on a shelf, nor a collection of pithy moral precepts assembled from the sayings of the wise. They are powers that empower. Recall, the House of Justice said that spiritual principles “induce an attitude, a dynamic, a will, an aspiration.” Spiritual principles infuse energy and will into human thought and the body politic. They are creative of life and truth. Of His Laws Baha’u’llah wrote: “Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power.” (The Kitab-i-Aqdas: 21) A choice wine unsealed with fingers of might and power is a dynamic image of heavenly aroma and sparkling taste, of joy and zest and contentment, and strength. He states in another place, quoting an Islamic tradition: "Knowledge is all that is knowable; and might and power, all creation." (The Kitab-i-Iqan: 185)
Elsewhere, Baha’u’llah wrote: “Every man of insight will, in this day, readily admit that the counsels which the Pen of this Wronged One hath revealed constitute the supreme animating power for the advancement of the world and the exaltation of its peoples.” (Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 85)
The animating power in spiritual principles flows into the human world through the channel of “that which is immanent in human nature.”
Finally, we can see a more general pattern of the influence and effects of gathering together to execute spiritual purposes, even among a few souls coming together informally, in the following statement from ‘Abdu’l-Baha: “If a small number of people gather lovingly together, with absolute purity and sanctity, with their hearts free of the world, experiencing the emotions of the Kingdom and the powerful magnetic forces of the Divine, and being at one in their happy fellowship, that gathering will exert its influence over all the earth. The nature of that band of people, the words they speak, the deeds they do, will unleash the bestowals of Heaven, and provide a foretaste of eternal bliss. The hosts of the Company on high will defend them, and the angels of the Abha Paradise, in continuous succession, will come down to their aid.” (Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá: 81)
Consultation is a gift from God to humanity in its age of maturity. Free, full, and frank consultation is the bedrock of the entire Order of Baha’u’llah. Consultation, while being an educational model and practice that brings forth the higher faculties of the human reality, is also a process that brings forth truth. These twin processes are, of course, interrelated, and their interrelation marks the maturity of the gift of understanding, the turning of conjecture into certitude. Consultation is a dynamic educational model and a practice for living continuously in truth. Consultation is a most powerful, even indispensable, means of individual and social transformation. It should play a central role in human education.
Sunday, October 7, 2018
If they agree upon a subject, even though it be wrong, it is better than to disagree and be in the right, for this difference will produce the demolition of the divine foundation. Though one of the parties may be in the right and they disagree that will be the cause of a thousand wrongs, but if they agree and both parties are in the wrong, as it is in unity the truth will be revealed and the wrong made right.
(Bahá'í World Faith: Selected Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá: 411)
Action is the execution of the decision, the realm of social morality. It seems clear that, after true consultation, the recipient of this gift has, in order to obey the pivotal principle of unity, a responsibility to act according to its directives to know the truth of it. Since human beings are not infallible in thought and perception, the truth of any decision will only be revealed when action is initiated-if that action is carried out in a spirt of unity. Unity is absolutely essential at every step and stage of the process. This submission to the results of true consultation is the root of a humble posture of learning and the foundation for a culture of encouragement.
Love, fellowship, and unity are all prerequisites for consultation and are present within consultation; and action carried out in a spirit of unity in response to any decision completes the connection so the spiritual current of divine assistance may flow and illumination result. As the Master explained in the above quote—which is worth reading again—if there is not unanimity in the decision, then fidelity to the principle of unity is a higher, nobler way than to be correct: “If they agree upon a subject, even though it be wrong, it is better than to disagree and be in the right, for this difference will produce the demolition of the divine foundation. Though one of the parties may be in the right and they disagree that will be the cause of a thousand wrongs, but if they agree and both parties are in the wrong, as it is in unity the truth will be revealed and the wrong made right.”
As we have repeatedly seen in these pages, in the human world, truth and unity are intimately interrelated: one brings forth the other and each is context for the other’s appearance, somewhat like the double helix of human DNA. That is, truth builds harmony and harmony enables truth to come forth. The stronger the form of unity in consultative decision making and execution the greater the likelihood the truth will be revealed. Reciprocally, the greater the power of truth, the stronger unity will be. “Truthfulness,” says ‘Abdu’l-Baha, “is the foundation of all the virtues of the world of humanity. Without truthfulness, progress and success in all of the worlds of God are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also become realized.” (Baha'i World Faith: 384)
Thus truthfulness in expression of opinion and fact is the realization of those qualities of the heart that the members bring into consultation, is the foundation of all those intellectual virtues that organize into consultation, and the goal of consultation is, as we know, the finding of the truth. The goal of truth, in turn, is to build vibrant communities: unity, as we saw, being the environment of truth, and unanimity the strongest form of unity of thought, the one reality.
While consciousness should ever seek truth, action should have fraternal harmony as its purpose. Baha’u’llah explains: “If in the first group of people who have gathered, unanimity is not achieved, new people shall be added, after which a group equal in number to the Greatest Name or fewer or greater shall be chosen from their midst by lots; whereupon the consultation shall be renewed; whatever is the result shall be obeyed. If the second time opinions again differ, repeat the process a third time. This time obey the majority vote. Verily He directeth whom He willeth to the straight Path.” (The Compilation of Compilations vol. I: 94) It is clear, in this passage, that for Baha’u’llah unanimity is the preferred outcome, but if that is impossible or unattainable, then a majority opinion is the next best option. We read earlier that this preference for unanimity was shared by ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Recall, He stated: If after discussion, a decision be carried unanimously, well and good; but if the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail.”
It is interesting to me that if unanimity is not attained among the first group “new people” should be added, not some removed, and that from among this new group the consultative members are chosen by lot. This return to choosing decision-makers by lot, to what is known as sortation, a custom of classical Athenian society, is not by chance. Choosing political leaders in that way was because it was thought that power corrupts. But it was also considered a principle characteristic of true democracy. The promise of divine aid is not reserved solely for the action taken after the decision, but throughout the process, from the foundational virtues, to the use of spiritual principles, to the establishment of a truly democratic means of forming groups.
Baha’u’llah also emphasizes the responsibility of obedience to decisions that are the result of consultation: whatever is the result shall be obeyed. In the above example given by Baha’u’llah, obedience begins with the second decision, even as, perhaps, a third group convenes to discuss the matter further. Obedience continues up until this third group renders its decision. Thus, in all cases, the one seeking a decision from the process of true consultation is under a spiritual obligation to the community to obey. So important may be this principle, that if the one seeking answers to any problem or challenge is not ready to accept wholeheartedly a decision, it may be better not to engage in consultation at all, but, rather, simply ask for advice and suggestions, leaving the final decision in his own hands. This is especially true if the consulting body is the divine institution of a Spiritual Assembly. “It is incumbent upon every one not to take any step without consulting the Spiritual Assembly, and they must assuredly obey with heart and soul its bidding and be submissive unto it, that things may be properly ordered and well arranged. Otherwise every person will act independently and after his own judgment, will follow his own desire, and do harm to the Cause. (Bahá'í Administration: Selected Messages 1922-1932: 21)
As repeatedly emphasized, consultation is no mere advice column of suggestions from friends, or some decision-making machine. It is a creative, organic means of discovering the truth of any matter, carried out in an attitude and atmosphere of love and guided by spiritual principle, and its decisions should be accepted on those terms to gain its full benefits. As a reflexive process, responsibility for truth to emerge is not limited to the final step of physical behavior and movement, however. Because it is an organic process, there are essential responsibilities for action placed upon the shoulders of the members of, for example, a Spiritual Assembly to achieve a certain attitude and create a certain atmosphere among themselves even before actual discussion occurs. Baha’u’llah lays these out: “It behooveth them to be the trusted ones of the Merciful among men and to regard themselves as the guardians appointed of God for all that dwell on earth. It is incumbent upon them to take counsel together and to have regard for the interests of the servants of God, for His sake, even as they regard their own interests, and to choose that which is meet and seemly. Thus hath the Lord your God commanded you. Beware lest ye put away that which is clearly revealed in His Tablet. Fear God, O ye that perceive.” (Bahá'í Administration: Selected Messages 1922-1932: 21)
When carried out in good order, respect for the process of consultation, especially the step of acting in the spirit of unity upon any decision arrived at, is a means and a way for truth to be revealed, for truth to enter the realm of human thought and life. Divine guidance exists in the form of spiritual principles to influence discussion. However, what practical form those truths take needs to be created, a solution devised. Consultation works because Baha’u’llah is the hidden participant, the aid-giver to whomsoever carries out His counsels.
Sunday, September 30, 2018
Settle all things, both great and small, by consultation. Without prior consultation, take no important step in your own personal affairs. Concern yourselves with one another. Help along one another's projects and plans. Grieve over one another. Let none in the whole country go in need. Befriend one another until ye become as a single body, one and all...
(Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá: 128-29)
As the above quote indicates, the Master wishes people to be intimately involved with each other, look out for each other, be of service to all they meet, as that is the basis of real community. That perspective opens up numerous possibilities for consultation to be an ever-present reality in human life. It is not, then, the privileged responsibility of those serving in institutional authority, but the means to bring certitude, awareness and awakening to every aspect of human life. All can and should make consultation an integral part of daily life and promote its use and employ. This, in turn, implies to my mind a new set of moral responsibilities that community members have to truth and to each other, especially in regards to the results, the decisions made, in consultation.
Let us examine some examples of when consultation should be used in everyday life as presented by ‘Abdu’l-Baha, paying special attention to how solutions to problems come about. But first let us recall that, under any circumstance and in any setting: “consultation must have for its object the investigation of truth.” (The Promulgation of Universal Peace: 68.)
‘Abdu’l-Baha states: “For instance, when a man hath a project to accomplish, should he consult with some of his brethren, that which is agreeable will of course be investigated and unveiled to his eyes, and the truth will be disclosed. Likewise on a higher level, should the people of a village consult one another about their affairs, the right solution will certainly be revealed. In like manner, the members of each profession, such as in industry, should consult, and those in commerce should similarly consult on business affairs. In short, consultation is desirable and acceptable in all things and on all issues.” (Cited in letter dated 15 February 1922 written by Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of Persia (The Compilation of Compilations vol. I: 97) This returns us to an earlier quoted statement from ‘Abdu’l-Baha where He stated that after a speaker sets forth his views in the proper way: “Should any one oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed.”
Let us look more closely at the phrases “the truth will be disclosed”, “the right solution will certainly be revealed” and “the right way be revealed.” Recall that when we touched on this topic before it was stated that if truth is to be revealed then it exists somewhere waiting to be revealed. We suggested, following the House of Justice statement, that the “somewhere” where truth resides is in the spiritual principles that are to guide consultation to the devising of practical solutions. It is not solely a product of human thought or imagination, neither is it some cobbled together situational consensus, and it is not the same thing as confirmed human knowledge, such as science may provide, though the truths that exists in the human values or spiritual principles are being confirmed by science. These together, spiritual principle, science, thought and imagination, compose the mental “space”, the opening in consciousness, where truth may appear. Truth is the authority in these matters, and it is what consultation is not only meant to find, but which consultation is founded upon, being foundation, the operative principle of justice, and the goal of consultation. The final step in consultation, which we will examine in the next section, is to find the practical form of truth, the devising of a solution or, in the House of Justice’s phrase, “a course of collective action defined”. Now all this implies, it seems to me, a new moral obligation to truth itself to carry out the decision.
‘Abdu’l-Baha gives another example when consultation can be used and what it indicates for the one wishing to consult: “The question of consultation is of the utmost importance, and is one of the most potent instruments conducive to the tranquillity and felicity of the people. For example, when a believer is uncertain about his affairs, or when he seeketh to pursue a project or trade, the friends should gather together and devise a solution for him. He, in his turn, should act accordingly. Likewise in larger issues, when a problem ariseth, or a difficulty occurreth, the wise should gather, consult, and devise a solution. They should then rely upon the one true God, and surrender to His Providence, in whatever way it may be revealed, for divine confirmations will undoubtedly assist. Consultation, therefore, is one of the explicit ordinances of the Lord of mankind.” (Compilation on Consultation, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I: 96)
Again, let us tease out the implications of a couple of relevant phrases. First, the “friends should gather together and devise a solution for him. He, in his turn, should act accordingly.” And: “rely upon the one true God, and surrender to His Providence, in whatever way it may be revealed, for divine confirmations will undoubtedly assist.” To “act accordingly” means to accept wholeheartedly the decision and act on its requirements. While it might be thought that this submission is contrary to the sacred principle of independent investigation of truth, this is not really the case. One, for example, would not consult a reputable and competent physician about an illness, receive a thorough examination leading to a diagnosis based upon fact, be given a remedy, only to decide on one’s own unprofessional authority to try something else. Why consult the physician in the first place?
Once a solution is “devised” the recipient should “act accordingly” and “surrender to His Providence” of his own desire and volition. He or she should not act out of slavish obeisance, and the individual cannot be cajoled, coerced, or compelled to obey, which themselves are anathema to the principle of unity. Obedience is for his or her own protection and guidance, and to attract divine assistance, “for divine confirmations will undoubtedly assist.” Thus the principle of unity extends through the entire sequence of steps and stages of the process. If the truth has been ascertained, conjecture transmuted into certitude, a practical solution devised, then action follows as a natural continuation of the process of creating unity, for it is the truth for that particular situation. The Master states: “Man must consult in all things for this will lead him to the depths of each problem and enable him to find the right solution.” (The Compilation of Compilations vol. I: 98)
Also let us note in passing the use by the House of Justice of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s phrase “devise a solution” in its discussion of spiritual principle. Recall they wrote: “Any well-intentioned group can in a general sense devise practical solutions to its problems, but good intentions and practical knowledge are usually not enough”, clearly pointing to the need for spiritual influence to make the devising of a solution a real and comprehensive solution, a dis-solving of the knot of a problem.
To “devise a solution” means, to me, that consultation “solves” problems by answering questions specific to the resolution of that particular challenge and context: that the questions and answers themselves mysteriously, one might say, alchemically, combine to create the solution when guided by spiritual principle.
Hence “solution” in this light is not like marking the correct answer to a multiple choice question, neither is it to generate or share thought absent the guidance of spiritual principle. Should we look at the word “solution” metaphorically, as either a kind of chemical reaction or electrical interaction, we see a solution emerging from the creative mix of questions and answers, or their mutual attraction, that brings about a third reality, as hydrogen and oxygen, two gases, that when properly combined atomically bring about water, and current and filament create light. This is the alchemy of spiritual principle and human thought.
There is no equivalent in consultation to following legal precedent, no authority of history to obey. Too, personal inspiration is no reliable guide to truth. Rather, the same process of collectively discovering truth is undertaken and applied afresh. The process of consultation itself is the authority, because every problem has its own solution. As Baha’u’llah stated in a larger context: “Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah: 213)
Also, if the decision came from a consultation carried out in a spirit of service to a friend and with love and unity, then celestial aid is promised the obedient actor, leaving an unmistakable trail of the light of spirit. This does not make the decision an infallible one, for it is not pure divine knowledge, only guided by it. But it is true as a divinely-guided, truth-informed, unfolding process of investigation and reflection leading toward a desired goal.
The purpose of consultation is the collective investigation and finding of the truth, and, then, making a decision, devising a solution, to a problem or challenge. We said above that this process may be viewed as constructing a context for truth to appear. But that context extends into the realm of action. We have reached the point in our discussion of making the decision. But if the decision is not infallible, how will the truth or error of the decision be known? The truth is revealed in action that obediently carries out the decision. Here we enter the realm of the new social responsibilities that consultation lays upon those engaging in it, and the principle of unity emerges as a guiding principle not only of thought, but also of behavior.
Sunday, September 23, 2018
In all things it is necessary to consult. This matter should be forcibly stressed by thee, so that consultation may be observed by all. The intent of what hath been revealed from the Pen of the Most High is that consultation may be fully carried out among the friends, inasmuch as it is and will always be a cause of awareness and of awakening and a source of good and well-being.
(Consultation: A Compilation: 3)
Last post examined how consultation brings forth new powers of awakening and awareness from the power of understanding. But there are, too, positive social results that flow from consultation that make it a source of well-being.
The Master further elaborates on the nature and importance of consultation: “Man must consult on all matters, whether major or minor, so that he may become cognizant of what is good. Consultation giveth him insight into things and enableth him to delve into questions which are unknown. The light of truth shineth from the faces of those who engage in consultation. Such consultation causeth the living waters to flow in the meadows of man's reality, the rays of ancient glory to shine upon him, and the tree of his being to be adorned with wondrous fruit. The members who are consulting, however, should behave in the utmost love, harmony and sincerity towards each other. The principle of consultation is one of the most fundamental elements of the divine edifice. Even in their ordinary affairs the individual members of society should consult.” (From a Tablet - translated from the Persian--The Compilation of Compilations vol. I: 91)
True consultation as spiritual conference that is founded upon spiritual principles and carried out in an attitude and atmosphere of love transforms the power of understanding into a super power of spiritual insight and understanding. For when true love is mixed with spiritual principle, scientific knowledge, and the facts of any matter under consideration, and with the other spiritual qualities enumerated earlier, the human intelligence, with the aid of God, is able to transmute conjecture, which is to form an opinion or conclusion on the basis of incomplete information, into a certitude of knowing.
It is in this context where divine love and knowledge are combined that we can more deeply comprehend these statements: “The heaven of divine wisdom is illumined with the two luminaries of consultation and compassion and the canopy of world order is upraised upon the two pillars of reward and punishment.” (Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 126) “The Great Being saith: The heaven of divine wisdom is illumined with the two luminaries of consultation and compassion. Take ye counsel together in all matters, inasmuch as consultation is the lamp of guidance which leadeth the way, and is the bestower of understanding.” (Tablets of Baha'u'llah:168)
Divine knowledge and love, the great powers of the mind and the heart, both gifts from God to the human reality, are inherent, though latent, attributes of the rational faculty, the power of understanding. They are powers infused into our very beings, endowments of the human essence that connect it directly to the spiritual dimension, the heaven of divine wisdom. We are, as reminded daily in the Short Obligatory Prayer: “Created to know Thee and to worship Thee." In another of His prayers, one in which He, again, links wisdom and compassion, Baha’u’llah expresses: “Glorified art Thou, O Lord my God! I give Thee thanks inasmuch as Thou hast called me into being in Thy days, and infused into me Thy love and Thy knowledge. I beseech Thee, by Thy name whereby the goodly pearls of Thy wisdom and Thine utterance were brought forth out of the treasuries of the hearts of such of Thy servants as are nigh unto Thee, and through which the Day-Star of Thy name, the Compassionate, hath shed its radiance upon all that are in Thy heaven and on Thy earth, to supply me, by Thy grace and bounty, with Thy wondrous and hidden bounties.” (Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah: 177)
One might wonder why consultation is linked inextricably with compassion. Perhaps it has something to do with transmuting the conjecture of opinion into a certitude of knowledge. But it also helps make consultation a source of well-being. Consultation is speaking and thinking together in the common effort to unify thought around the truth, and to make a decision which leads to effective action. Compassion is, literally, to suffer or feel together. This creates a unity of feeling. These come together in the prayer often said to open a meeting of the Spiritual Assembly: “that our thoughts, our views, our feelings may become as one reality, manifesting the spirit of union throughout the world.” (Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu'l-Baha: 86) That is, not only are thoughts to be one reality in themselves, and views one reality as a collective view, and feelings unified into one reality, but these separate unities also come together into one complex reality, thereby truly “manifesting the spirit of union.”
Compassion is a unity of feeling for each other brought about in the hearts of many people in a phrase ‘Abdu’l-Baha stated was one of the requisites for true consultation, namely, “patience and long-suffering in difficulties”. Consultation supported by compassion would, I feel, engender an empathic understanding of another and to a tolerance of differences. Such a condition of spirit would inherently oppose belittling the thought of another, or seeking to exalt oneself above others. It would serve to direct thought toward equity, the fundamental value in justice, and to the means of uplifting the downtrodden, providing more opportunities to the underprivileged, to redress injustice, in short, to social and personal transformation. In other words, consultation is not just a source of awakening and awareness, but also, as the lead quote states, a source of good and well-being.
Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha counselled people to engage in consultation in all matters. In that light, and in the context of good and well-being, let us recall here that Baha’u’llah says that “No welfare and no well-being can be attained except through consultation.’" (The Compilation of Compilations vol. I: 93) And: “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded.”(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah: 286) Whenever consultation is directed toward serving others, to helping them with life’s difficulties, with virtuous action, when it results in compassionate understanding, it becomes a source of good and well-being.
These are some of the latent powers that true consultation (i.e. consultation as spiritual conference carried out in an attitude and atmosphere of love and founded upon spiritual principles) releases from the human reality, and some of the positive, transforming social results that true consultation brings about. It is the maturity of the gift of understanding, it transmutes conjecture into certitude, it is a light which guideth, a lamp illuminating the path to truth, bestowing awareness and awakening. It is a source of good and well-being. It is no wonder that Baha’u’llah in such strong terms admonishes us to consult in all matters.
But there are other moral and social responsibilities implied in all this. These are summed up under the word “obedience.” Let look next at these responsibilities in turn and perhaps see why this is so.
Sunday, September 16, 2018
It is clear and evident, therefore, that the first bestowal of God is the Word, and its discoverer and recipient is the power of understanding. This Word is the foremost instructor in the school of existence and the revealer of Him Who is the Almighty. All that is seen is visible only through the light of its wisdom. All that is manifest is but a token of its knowledge. All names are but its name, and the beginning and end of all matters must needs depend upon it.
(Baha'u'llah, Tabernacle of Unity: 3)
Let us begin by knowing something about the nature and purpose of what Baha’u’llah calls above “the power of understanding.” It is the special gift from God to humanity. Baha’u’llah wrote: “Know thou that, according to what thy Lord, the Lord of all men, hath decreed in His Book, the favors vouchsafed by Him unto mankind have been, and will ever remain, limitless in their range. First and foremost among these favors, which the Almighty hath conferred upon man, is the gift of understanding. His purpose in conferring such a gift is none other except to enable His creature to know and recognize the one true God—exalted be His glory. This gift giveth man the power to discern the truth in all things, leadeth him to that which is right, and helpeth him to discover the secrets of creation.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah: 194)
The gift of understanding is another name for the rational faculty with which God has endowed the essence of the human reality. This power, this gift, He says, gives human beings “the power to discern the truth in all things.” Let us recall that the powers and qualities of God are nested within each other, for all are connected with the rational faculty.
The rational faculty’s power of discernment is through the faculty of justice, which, in turn, is directly connected with both unity, "a condition of the human spirit" (One Common Faith: 42), and consultation, the "operating expression of justice in human affairs". The House of Justice wrote that: “justice, as a faculty of the soul, enables the individual to distinguish truth from falsehood and guides the investigation of reality, so essential if superstitious beliefs and outworn traditions that impede unity are to be eliminated.” (Universal House of Justice: Letter to the Bahá'ís of Iran 2 March 2013)
Discernment is the ability to judge accurately and fairly. It is the balanced, middle way between an undiscerning and unguarded tolerance of every kind of thought and action, and a rigid, legalistic, mechanical system of laws and principles. Justice is the supreme operating quality for today, the harbinger of unity and the foundation of peace.
What does Baha’u’llah say about the soul’s faculty of justice? “The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.” (The Arabic Hidden Words #2)
At every level of human interaction, consultation will grow in importance as its power to discern truth, unify people into community, and generate the knowledge and insights that will solve seemingly intractable problems, defuse explosive issues and harmonize contentious disputes is understood.
The Prosperity of Humankind states: “[C]onsultation is the operating expression of justice in human affairs. So vital is it to the success of collective endeavor that it must constitute a basic feature of a viable strategy of social and economic development. Indeed, the participation of those on whose commitment the success of such a strategy depends becomes effective only as consultation is made the organizing principle of every project. ‘No man can attain his true station,’ is Bahá’u’lláh's counsel, ‘except through his justice. No power can exist except through unity. No welfare and no well-being can be attained except through consultation.’" (The Prosperity of Humankind: Section III para: 6)
Certainly, as one of the purposes of consultation is to investigate and ascertain the truth, this power of discernment plays a central role in consultation. But in the context of true consultation, when aided by love, fellowship and guided by spiritual principles, this power achieves a remarkable transformation in strength and discernment.
Baha’u’llah strongly stressed that: “In all things it is necessary to consult. This matter should be forcibly stressed by thee, so that consultation may be observed by all. The intent of what hath been revealed from the Pen of the Most High is that consultation may be fully carried out among the friends, inasmuch as it is and will always be a cause of awareness and of awakening and a source of good and well-being.” (Consultation: A Compilation: 3) Why should He be so insistent that consultation be observed, even to saying that it “should be forcibly stressed”?
One reason may be that consultation is “a cause of awareness and awakening”. In another place He stated what I believe may be the fundamental reason why it is so important to engage in true consultation: “Consultation bestoweth greater awareness and transmuteth conjecture into certitude. It is a shining light which, in a dark world, leadeth the way and guideth. For everything there is and will continue to be a station of perfection and maturity. The maturity of the gift of understanding is made manifest through consultation.” (Consultation: A Compilation: 3)
Transmutation is to change the nature of something, as Baha’u’llah explained in the Kitab-i-Iqan where He discusses changing copper into gold as a metaphor for the transmutation of soul. There, as a final statement about the process, He stated: “It is evident that nothing short of this mystic transformation could cause such spirit and behavior, so utterly unlike their previous habits and manners, to be made manifest in the world of being. For their agitation was turned into peace, their doubt into certitude, their timidity into courage. Such is the potency of the Divine Elixir, which, swift as the twinkling of an eye, transmuteth the souls of men!” (Kitab-i-Iqan: 156)
Again we hearken back to spiritual principles, which are, in this case, the “Divine Elixir”. They not only harmonize with the human reality, but also in consultation they are an alchemical elixir of thought, the divine element, which mysteriously transmutes conjecture into certitude—that is, changes thinking from disparate ideas and musings and opinions into a certitude of collective insight born of divine knowledge. Revelation instantly transmutes not only the souls of human beings and their behavior, but also their thought “in the twinkling of an eye”. It enables both of them to reach their spiritual maturity.
Such a profound change as is implied by the word transmutation is, in other places, also described, following Baha’u’llah, as mystical. Thus, Shoghi Effendi states that “the core of religious faith is that mystic feeling which unites Man with God. This state of spiritual communion can be brought about and maintained by means of meditation and prayer.” (Directives from the Guardian: 86)
And in relation to human individual and social development he wrote: “That mystic, all-pervasive, yet indefinable change, which we associate with the stage of maturity inevitable in the life of the individual and the development of the fruit must, if we would correctly apprehend the utterances of Bahá'u'lláh, have its counterpart in the evolution of the organization of human society.” (The World Order of Baha'u'llah: 163-164)
This excursion into mystic transformation may seem odd in a discussion on consultation, but it is just this connection with the spiritual dimension that separates consultation from mere decision-making or other forms of group dynamics. The House of Justice explains that the Bahá’i “world-view includes the spiritual dimension as an indispensable component for consistency and coherence.” (Compilations, Scholarship: 26)
And what they mean by the phrase “the spiritual dimension” was summed up in another document: “Although there are mystical aspects that are not easily explained, the spiritual dimension of human nature can be understood, in practical terms, as the source of qualities that transcend narrow self-interest. Such qualities include love, compassion, forbearance, trustworthiness, courage, humility, co-operation and willingness to sacrifice for the common good—qualities of an enlightened citizenry, able to construct a unified world civilization.” (Bahá’í International Community, 1993 Apr 01, Sustainable Development and the Human Spirit)
One, of course, hears in this recitation of qualities echoes of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s enumeration of the requisites for true consultation: i.e. moral qualities of the heart that are inherent to and find their origin in the spiritual dimension, and which are expressed as spiritual principles, or human values, by the mind in speech.
In regards to the work of consultation, Baha’u’llah’s statement just above may be alluding to a mystic transmutation of individual and collective human thought itself, an unprecedented psychological advance, historically unparalleled in its depth and scope, that marks the change from adducing mere conjectural evidence and opinions about the truth to having something more like a direct perception of it that is certainty, as is, perhaps, stated by Baha’u’llah in this passage: “Pass beyond the baser stages of doubt and rise to the exalted heights of certainty. Open the eye of truth, that thou mayest behold the veilless Beauty and exclaim: Hallowed be the Lord, the most excellent of all creators!” (The Persian Hidden Words #9)
This advance marks the mystic transmutation into its maturity of the gift of understanding.
Sunday, September 9, 2018
The members thereof must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should any one oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. If after discussion, a decision be carried unanimously, well and good; but if the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail.
(Bahá'í Administration: Selected Messages 1922-1932: 21-22)
There are a couple of salient points to explore in the above quote regarding the attitude and atmosphere of love and unity that it implies exists, and the kind of unity to be constructed. First, it is to be noted that, as we saw last post, ‘Abdu’l-Baha wishes those in consultation to “arrive at unity and truth.” Unity can be attained, in part, when every member feels free to truthfully give his or her opinion and set forth an argument. But any opinion should be made, again from the last post, “as a contribution to the consensus of opinion, for the light of reality becomes apparent when two opinions coincide.”
When considered in a context of seeking and discovering truth, where each member only considers his or her ideas as helping to build “a consensus of opinion”, then these opinions and arguments are as different reflecting facets of a single diamond of thought, not individual and unconnected, even adversarial, personal views clashing, cancelling, or overriding one another, seeking personal triumph, promoting one’s opinion over others, or wrangling with another in contentious dispute. That is because the members start from one condition of unity, and seek to build another unity arising out of consultation. They do not work from a situation of disunity and strive for unity as a goal. Thus, unity is foundation, goal and operating principle of consultation. Honest opinions based upon spiritual principle assist this process, for ideas based on spiritual principle, entirely unlike material things, possess an interpenetrating, mutually-defining and enhancing spiritual nature. The light of reality becomes apparent, because, as ‘Abdu’l-Baha stated, “reality or truth is one”. The Master continues in this same passage that “there are many religious beliefs, denominations, creeds and differing opinions in the world today. Why should these differences exist? Because they do not investigate and examine the fundamental unity, which is one and unchangeable. If they seek reality itself, they will agree and be united; for reality is indivisible and not multiple. It is evident, therefore, that there is nothing of greater importance to mankind than the investigation of truth.” (The Promulgation of Universal Peace 26:5.)
Again, though one in nature, truth has many facets, forms, contexts, and dimensions of appearance. Within the functioning of the Bahá’i Administrative Order, Shoghi Effendi stated that: “Consultation, frank and unfettered, is the bedrock of this unique order.” And: “(T)he bedrock of the Bahá'í administrative order is the principle of unity in diversity.” (Dawn of a New Day: 47)
In the context of consultation, unity in diversity means, I believe, to “set forth” opinions “as a contribution to the consensus of opinion, for the light of reality becomes apparent when two opinions coincide”.
The second point has to do with where truth resides. Recall that ‘Abdu’l-Baha asserted that every member should express his opinion and set forth any argument “with absolute freedom”. He went on: “Should any one oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed.” If truth is to be revealed then it exists somewhere waiting to be revealed. It is not just a product of human thought or imagination, neither is it some cobbled together consensus, though these may be working models of the truth. That is, consultation educes truth from the realm of truth. I don’t mean truth as some sort of pre-packaged, readymade mix, needing only to be warmed up and served. Rather revealed truth is the creative result of applying spiritual principles to practical situations.
The reality of the realm of truth is just those spiritual principles that the House of Justice asserts should be used to guide all who engage in consultation. These principles are the divine, intellectual form of Truth. For this reason the House of Justice advises leaders, as we read last post to “first seek to identify the principles involved and then be guided by them.” These principles also possess another quality.
Spiritual principle, the House of Justice avers, “presents a perspective which harmonizes with that which is immanent in human nature”. Spiritual principles harmonize with higher human nature, that nature, that image and likeness of God, identified by Baha’u’llah in this passage: “Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting”. (The Arabic Hidden Words 13) The intrinsic, resonant harmony of this higher nature with God’s Word appears when the soul is in a receptive state. In that condition: “Thy hearing is My hearing, hear thou therewith. Thy sight is My sight, do thou see therewith.” (The Arabic Hidden Words: 44)
The presence and influence of the Word of God is not a phenomenon reserved only for today, of course. The Lord Christ, the Word made flesh, reportedly told His disciples: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (King James Bible, Book of Matthew 18:20) ‘Abdu’l-Baha Himself described spiritual conference, and presented, as its finest example, the conference of Christ’s disciples after His ascension.
The Master gives the following example of what He meant by spiritual conference, or spiritual consultation. He stated: “The most memorable instance of spiritual consultation was the meeting of the disciples of Jesus Christ upon the mount after His ascension. They said, "Jesus Christ has been crucified, and we have no longer association and intercourse with Him in His physical body; therefore, we must be loyal and faithful to Him, we must be grateful and appreciate Him, for He has raised us from the dead, He made us wise, He has given us eternal life. What shall we do to be faithful to Him?" And so they held council. One of them said, "We must detach ourselves from the chains and fetters of the world; otherwise, we cannot be faithful." The others replied, "That is so." Another said, "Either we must be married and faithful to our wives and children or serve our Lord free from these ties. We cannot be occupied with the care and provision for families and at the same time herald the Kingdom in the wilderness. Therefore, let those who are unmarried remain so, and those who have married provide means of sustenance and comfort for their families and then go forth to spread the message of glad tidings." There were no dissenting voices; all agreed, saying, "That is right." A third disciple said, "To perform worthy deeds in the Kingdom we must be further self-sacrificing. From now on we should forego ease and bodily comfort, accept every difficulty, forget self and teach the Cause of God." This found acceptance and approval by all the others. Finally a fourth disciple said, "There is still another aspect to our faith and unity. For Jesus' sake we shall be beaten, imprisoned and exiled. They may kill us. Let us receive this lesson now. Let us realize and resolve that though we are beaten, banished, cursed, spat upon and led forth to be killed, we shall accept all this joyfully, loving those who hate and wound us." All the disciples replied, "Surely we will -- it is agreed; this is right." Then they descended from the summit of the mountain, and each went forth in a different direction upon his divine mission.
“This was true consultation. This was spiritual consultation and not the mere voicing of personal views in parliamentary opposition and debate.” (The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Section 31.4)
What form truth takes in the practical world is what is devised by those in spiritual conference, not just with each other but with the Word of God in the form of spiritual principle and law. For the use of spiritual principle as guide “induces an attitude, a dynamic, a will, an aspiration, which facilitate the discovery and implementation of practical measures”.
Consultation has as its first object the investigation and apprehension of the truth. But given the above discussion this can be no mere intellectual exercise or just mental apprehension. Consultation is, too, a process that reflects upon and adjusts an unfolding course of action, making an organic, logically connected series of advances toward full understanding. It is learning based on action and reflection. Much truth, as opposed to some idea of truth, cannot be revealed except in action. We will return to this later. But, keep in mind, that truth already exists waiting to be made manifest, though what form that will take remains a mystery until it happens, for there are many, perhaps infinite, levels and contexts of truth, and different qualities of the human intelligence have access to different contexts of truth: the senses to sensory truth and experience while the ordinary, rational intelligence, or human spirit “consists of the rational, or logical, reasoning faculty, which apprehends general ideas and things intelligible and perceptible”. Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith: 370) But above these sensory and natural intellectual powers are higher faculties that emerge in today’s spiritually gifted age, and which can come forth in true consultation. To better understand this notion and its implications for thought and action we can explore the topic of how consultation brings forth, i.e. educes, latent powers from the power of understanding, the supreme gift of God to humanity.
Saturday, September 1, 2018
In this Cause consultation is of vital importance, but spiritual conference and not the mere voicing of personal views is intended.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace: 68)
Spiritual conference begins with the voicing of one’s opinion as explicitly formed by spiritual qualities and consciously guided by spiritual principles. That is, such qualities as love, harmony, humility, and purity of motive, are formative powers shaping how the opinion is to be expressed, while spiritual principles are, or should be, the touchstone and foundation of that opinion. The first are the foundation of consultation itself, while the second are the foundation of speech itself. By emphasizing this distinction I mean to recall attention to the previous statement from the Master that: “true consultation is spiritual conference in the attitude and atmosphere of love.” We can say that “attitude and atmosphere” are the inner and outer forms of love in unity.
What is meant by “spiritual principles”, and why are they important? The House of Justice wrote: “There are spiritual principles, or what some call human values, by which solutions can be found for every social problem. Any well-intentioned group can in a general sense devise practical solutions to its problems, but good intentions and practical knowledge are usually not enough. The essential merit of spiritual principle is that it not only presents a perspective which harmonizes with that which is immanent in human nature, it also induces an attitude, a dynamic, a will, an aspiration, which facilitate the discovery and implementation of practical measures. Leaders of governments and all in authority would be well served in their efforts to solve problems if they would first seek to identify the principles involved and then be guided by them.
“The primary question to be resolved is how the present world, with its entrenched pattern of conflict, can change to a world in which harmony and co-operation will prevail.” As one example of spiritual principle they state: “World order can be founded only on an unshakeable consciousness of the oneness of mankind, a spiritual truth which all the human sciences confirm.” (The Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace: para 37-39.
As the House recommends: “Leaders of governments and all in authority would be well served in their efforts to solve problems if they would first seek to identify the principles involved and then be guided by them.” Hence the first step in speech is to be identify the spiritual principles and be guided by them. These spiritual principles, also known as human values, are just the requisites that ‘Abdu’l-Baha mentioned as being necessary for victory to be vouchsafed. The bringing forth of spiritual principle and establishing consultative discussion upon them is, therefore, one part of the Master’s definition of consultation as spiritual conference in an attitude and atmosphere of love and fellowship. But there is more to both this idea, and to a clarification of the notion of “victory”.
Recall that the aim and goal of consultation is to find the truth. The end result of consultation is to act on the decision arrived at. In order to accomplish the goal of discerning the truth the House of Justice stated that consultation, “requires all participants to express their opinions with absolute freedom and without apprehension that they will be censured or their views belittled.” Thus, to find the larger truth, participants must each express the truth of their opinion, not play devil’s advocate, nor speak to hide their real thought for fear of some reprisal or threat, nor misdirect others’ into thinking they believe something else.
The Master admonishes: “They must, when coming together, turn their faces to the Kingdom on high and ask aid from the Realm of Glory. They must then proceed with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity, care and moderation to express their views. They must in every matter search out the truth and not insist upon their own opinion, for stubbornness and persistence in one's views will lead ultimately to discord and wrangling and the truth will remain hidden. The honoured members must with all freedom express their own thoughts, and it is in no wise permissible for one to belittle the thought of another, nay, he must with moderation set forth the truth, and should differences of opinion arise a majority of voices must prevail, and all must obey and submit to the majority. It is again not permitted that any one of the honoured members object to or censure, whether in or out of the meeting, any decision arrived at previously, though that decision be not right, for such criticism would prevent any decision from being enforced. In short, whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and purity of motive, its result is light, and should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness.... If this be so regarded, that assembly shall be of God, but otherwise it shall lead to coolness and alienation that proceed from the Evil One.... Should they endeavour to fulfil these conditions the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall be vouchsafed unto them, and that assembly shall become the centre of the Divine blessings, the hosts of Divine confirmation shall come to their aid, and they shall day by day receive a new effusion of Spirit.” (Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha: 87-89)
Within consultation every individual has the right to self-expression and is obligated to be truthful about his expression, yet to balance this right ‘Abdu’l-Baha warned: “He who expresses an opinion should not voice it as correct and right but set it forth as a contribution to the consensus of opinion, for the light of reality becomes apparent when two opinions coincide. A spark is produced when flint and steel come together. Man should weigh his opinions with the utmost serenity, calmness and composure. Before expressing his own views he should carefully consider the views already advanced by others. If he finds that a previously expressed opinion is more true and worthy, he should accept it immediately and not willfully hold to an opinion of his own. By this excellent method he endeavors to arrive at unity and truth. Opposition and division are deplorable. It is better then to have the opinion of a wise, sagacious man; otherwise, contradiction and altercation, in which varied and divergent views are presented, will make it necessary for a judicial body to render decision upon the question. Even a majority opinion or consensus may be incorrect. A thousand people may hold to one view and be mistaken, whereas one sagacious person may be right.” (The Promulgation of Universal Peace: 68)
More in next post.