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Reflections on the teaching act worthy of meditation and experimentation/ implementation – excerpts from Adib Taherzadeh’s work ‘The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh’.

Teaching the Cause

In his teaching work a Bahá’í presents the Message of Bahá’u’lláh as one would offer a gift to a king. Since his primary object in teaching is not to increase numbers, but rather to bring a soul to its God, he ought to approach his fellow men with feelings of love and humility, and above all take to them the transforming power of Bahá’u’lláh and nothing of himself. Indeed, if he tries to project himself, by impressing upon the listener his knowledge and accomplishments, and aims to establish the ascendancy of his arguments while teaching the Faith, then the power of Bahá’u’lláh cannot reach him.

Success in teaching depends on one’s ability and readiness to draw from the power of Bahá’u’lláh. There is no alternative. If the believer does not open the way for Bahá’u’lláh through his love for Him, by his life and by teaching His Cause with devotion, His confirmations and assistance cannot reach him, and he will fail in his service to Him. Those who rank foremost among Bahá’í teachers were always conscious of the presence of Bahá’u’lláh at every stage of their teaching activities. It was because of the consciousness of His presence that they were enabled to approach with genuine love and humility those who were seeking the truth, attracting them with the warmth of their faith and the creative power of their words. It was this consciousness which enabled them to radiate the glory of the new-born Faith of God, to demonstrate its truth, to promote its interests, to withstand the onslaught of its enemies and to win imperishable victories for their Lord.

Bahá’u’lláh often counselled His followers how to teach the Faith. For example, He directed Hájí Muhammad-Táhir-i-Málmírí, when he was leaving His presence, to engage in teaching the Cause in his native city of Yazd and gave him some instructions as to how to teach. Foremost among these instructions was to pray for the seeker and urge him also to pray so that the confirmations of God might reach him and open his eyes to the truth of the Cause. Another counsel was to begin teaching with the account of the history of the religions of the past and their Founders, similar to the accounts given in the Kitáb-i-Íqán. This would enable the enquirer to get an insight into his own religion that he might recognize the truth and the reality of the Founder of his own Faith. When this stage was reached, the individual would be ready to appreciate and understand the Cause of God for this day.

To cite another example: there is a Tablet from Bahá’u’lláh in which Fáris (the Christian Syrian who embraced the Faith in Alexandria) is exhorted to teach with wisdom. He counsels him not to disclose to people everything about the Cause at first, but rather to teach them little by little until they are ready to absorb more. He likens this process to feeding infants who need to be given a little milk at a time until they grow in strength and are able to digest other food. This exhortation of Bahá’u’lláh is the basis of teaching the Cause of God. The principles involved are very similar to those which a schoolteacher employs in teaching his pupils little by little and in accordance with their capacity. Before teaching the Cause to any person, it is important to know his background and capacity. The most successful teachers are those who after familiarizing themselves with the beliefs and ideas of an individual, reveal the truths of the Faith gradually to him, but what little they impart is the correct remedy and is so potent as to influence and stimulate the soul and enable it to take a step forward and become ready to absorb more.

Hájí Mírzá Haydar-‘Alí, the celebrated Bahá’í teacher to whose outstanding services we have already referred, has left to posterity the following account of one of his memorable interviews with Bahá’u’lláh in ‘Akká, in the course of which He spoke these words about teaching the Cause of God:

The way to teach is to have a pleasing disposition and to deal with people in a spirit of loving-kindness. One must acknowledge whatever the other person says, even if it is vain imaginings, beliefs which are the result of blind imitation, or absurd talk. One should avoid in engaging in arguments or adducing proofs which bring out stubbornness and contention in the other person. This is because he finds himself defeated, and this will lead to his becoming more veiled from the truth and will add to his waywardness.

The right way is to acknowledge the other person’s statements and then present him with the alternative point of view and invite him to examine it to see whether it is true or false. Of course, when it is presented to him with courtesy, affection and loving-kindness, he will hear and will not be thinking in terms of defence, to find answers and look for proofs. He will acknowledge and admit the points. When the person realizes that the purpose behind discussions is not wrangling or the winning of arguments, but rather to convey the truth and to reveal human qualities and divine perfections, he will of course show fairness. His inner eyes and ears and heart will open and, through the grace of God, he will become a new creation and will possess new eyes and new ears.

Bahá’u’lláh spoke a great deal about the evils of controversial argument and aiming to become a winner in discussion. He then said, ‘The Most Great Branch* will listen to any absurd talk with such attentiveness that the person concerned believes that He is deriving enlightenment from him. However, little by little, and in a way that the person cannot realize, He bestows upon him a new vision and a new understanding.’

The talks of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the West provide the best example of wisdom in teaching. He addressed audiences who were almost alien to the history and genesis of the Faith and unfamiliar with the claims and the station of its Founder. Yet He disclosed to them with simplicity and brevity only those essential truths which they were capable of understanding and which constituted the first stepping-stones for their eventual recognition of the stupendous Message of Bahá’u’lláh. He clearly avoided at that early stage any elaboration on the many implications of the station of Bahá’u’lláh and His Revelation as well as the unfoldment of His laws and His World Order in the future. Instead, He bestowed upon every one who had the capacity a measure of His all-embracing love, which animated and sustained those few who embraced the Faith in the West.

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‘Abdu’l-Bahá speaking at Plymouth Congregational Church, Chicago, 5 May 1912

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At the inception of the Bahá’í community’s first global Plan, Shoghi Effendi described in compelling language the successive stages by which the divine light had been kindled in the Siyah-Qal, clothed in the lamp of revelation in Baghdad, spread to countries in Asia and Africa even as it shone with added brilliancy in Adrianople and later in ‘Akka, projected across the seas to the remaining continents, and by which it would be progressively diffused over the states and dependencies of the world. The final part of this process he characterized as the “penetration of that light into all the remaining territories of the globe”, referring to it as “the stage at which the light of God’s triumphant Faith shining in all its power and glory will have suffused and enveloped the entire planet.” Though that goal is far from being fulfilled, the light already blazes intensely in many a region. In some countries it shines in every cluster. In the land where that inextinguishable light was first ignited, it burns bright despite those who would snuff it out. In diverse nations it achieves a steady glow across whole neighbourhoods and villages, as candle after candle in heart after heart is lighted by the Hand of Providence; it illuminates thoughtful conversation at every level of human interaction; it casts its beams upon a myriad initiatives taken to promote the well-being of a people. And in every instance it radiates from a faithful believer, a vibrant community, a loving Spiritual Assembly-each a beacon of light against the gloom.

We pray earnestly at the Sacred Threshold that each one of you, bearers of the undying flame, may be surrounded by the potent confirmations of Bahá’u’lláh as you convey to others the spark of faith.

– The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2011 message, §§ 6-7

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(Source: Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, vol. 3, p. 333-336. Online: http://www.peyman.info/cl/Baha%27i/Others/ROB/V3/p322-342Ch15.html. Emphasis added)

(Photo sources: http://www.bahai-biblio.org/centre-photo/gens/abdul-baha/abd-amerique/chicago/abdach~10m~abd-chicago.htmhttp://www.bahai-biblio.org/centre-photo/gens/abdul-baha/abd-amerique/chicago/abdach~11m~abd-chicago.htm#centrer ) (A transcript of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk delivered at the Plymouth Congregational Church is available here: http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/PUP/pup-40.html)

(US – NC, 1 March)

How the efforts of a non-Bahá’í to teach the Faith elicited an unexpected response from a hearer. serving to demonstrate the unique blessings attached to this sacred act.

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A Gift to my Mentor

[S]omething amazing happened this evening at the last talk–-in my Intro to World Religions class–-that made this whole month [of immersion into the Baha’i way of life] worth the effort.

My Baha’i Mentor is the only Baha’i that we know of within many, many miles. She is a diaspora all to herself. In fact, I have been her sole Baha’i companion for the whole month. She lit up when I arrived every week at her home for Study Circle, ready to share the wisdom of her faith. We laughed over tea and delved into the teachings of Baha’u’llah. I could tell [that she was] missing [the company of her fellow believers] every time we visited the Baha’i community in “Triangle” one and half hours north of us; the way she interacted with her Baha’i [friends], it was like a family reunion with gatherings too rare for comfort.

I wanted to do something for her to repay her for the kindness and dedication she showed for me and Project Conversion. I wanted to give her a Baha’i community of her own.

But this is near to impossible. How can a non-Baha’i (though my Baha’i friends call me otherwise) help someone come–or at least become interested–in the faith? Turns out, all I have to do is teach. The message does the rest.

So tonight, as I finished giving my last talk about the Baha’i Faith in the last hours of the last days of the month, I showed the class the Baha’i Declaration Card and a registration card asking for more information about the faith. One woman approached me and asked to fill out the card, and if possible, to speak to my Mentor. I was floored. This was the spark I was looking for. The spark that could become a new Baha’i. She filled out the card and I will personally hand it to my Mentor tomorrow afternoon. I called my Mentor about what had happened and I could feel the joy flowing off her voice. Not because she might get the chance to “convert” someone, but because she gets the chance to share her faith.

So, looks like I have been the best Baha’i I can be to the end….

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Andrew Bowen of Project Conversion

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Wherever an intensive programme of growth is established, let the friends spare no effort to increase the level of participation…. Let them not lose sight of the remarkable receptivity they found—nay, the sense of eager expectation that awaited them—as they gained confidence in their ability to interact with people of all walks of life and converse with them about the Person of Bahá’u’lláh and His Revelation. Let them hold fast to the conviction that a direct presentation of the Faith, when carried out at a sufficient level of depth and reinforced by a sound approach to consolidation, can bring enduring results.

– The Universal House of Justice, 28 December 2010, § 15

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Andrew Bowen, a non-Bahá’í writer and editor, is the initiator of Project Conversion: Twelve Months of Spiritual Promiscuity.” Over the course of a year, he is immersing himself in one religion per month with the help of spiritual mentors of that religion. In February it was the turn of the Bahá’í Faith.

(Source: http://projectconversion.com/?p=529. Photo and biography of Andrew Bowen available here: http://projectconversion.com/?page_id=18)

(Pacific – Tonga, February 2011)

A refreshing report from a devoted pioneer in the Pacific — filling her schedule with service: Taking the initiative to fill gaps she recognizes at the school at which she serves; spending evenings doing home- and deepening visits; and dedicating weekends to childrens’ classes and junior youth groups!

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NEWS FROM TONGA

So, I arrived last Tuesday night and went straight to a devotional in the house next to us – and of course I had to sing…talk about throwing yourself in so quickly! We got settled in that night and then went to the Ocean of Light school the next day. It’s a primary and high school and it’s run by Bahá’ís but it’s for non-Bahá’ís too.

I’m currently working in the Library in the school because it’s still pretty bare at the minute! Books are being donated all the time, so I’m helping categorize and shelve them…

I realised very quickly that there is like NO music whatsoever in the school… there was nothing structured for them. So I talked to the Director of the school and got his permission to start a choir! So basically at the minute, I’m just trying to find songs to teach them and working out different parts and harmonies, hopefully it will sound as good as it does in my head.

Also, after school some days there is a dance workshop so I’m helping out there! It’s a lot of fun and the kids are learning the steps really quickly.

 

A Tongan traditional dance, Tau’olunga

 

Most days after school, we will go round the neighbourhood and home visit. At the minute we’re really working with a girl, like sharing quotes about the youth and what the youth can do to better the world and she’s bringing some of her friends to a devotional this weekend, so people around here seem to be really receptive and enthusiastic about the Faith. We’re having an event almost every evening, like devotionals and firesides and then children’s classes and junior youth groups at the weekend.

The children’s class I’m teaching has about 15-20 kids in it so it’s always entertaining! Also, we’re helping to improve their English in the classes, so we’re using games like ‘Simon says’ and singing songs like ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ which are fun at the same time.

I’ve been here a week and have done so much already. I’ll keep you updated on what’s happening next!

C.G.

 

The Kingdom of Tonga is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, comprising 176 islands, 52 of which are inhabited. The total population is only 102,000. In 2004 there were 29 local Spiritual Assemblies and 5% of the population is Bahá’í. The Bahá’í Faith was first established in Tonga in the 1950s. The National Spiritual Assembly of Tonga was established in 1976.

The first National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Tonga, 1976

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O servant of Bahá!

Music is regarded as a praiseworthy science at the Threshold of the Almighty, so that thou mayest chant verses at large gatherings and congregations in a most wondrous melody and raise such hymns of praise at the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar to enrapture the Concourse on High. By virtue of this, consider how much the art of music is admired and praised. Try, if thou canst, to use spiritual melodies, songs and tunes, and to bring the earthly music into harmony with the celestial melody. Then thou wilt notice what a great influence music hath and what heavenly joy and life it conferreth. Strike up such a melody and tune as to cause the nightingales of divine mysteries to be filled with joy and ecstasy.

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I rejoice to hear that thou takest pains with thine art, for in this wonderful new age, art is worship. The more thou strivest to perfect it, the closer wilt thou come to God. What bestowal could be greater than this, that one’s art should be even as the act of worshipping the Lord? That is to say, when thy fingers grasp the paintbrush, it is as if thou wert at prayer in the Temple.


– `Abdu’l-Bahá, Importance of Arts, #11, 12

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(Report is from the Northern Ireland Baha’i newsletter “CommuNIqué”, issue 154 – 1 March 2011, used with the author’s kind permission.) (Photos are copyright Bahá’í International Community, view here and here.)

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