Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cultural relevance and Book 1

I love Ruhi Book 1.  I really do.

In fact, I really love all the Ruhi books.  They are so well laid out, with so much room for personal movement.

Today, someone asked an interesting question, which was if I thought they were culturally relevant to a particular group, which I won't name, because I don't think that's relevant.  After thinking about it, I said that I felt it was.  Perhaps not directly, but releveant in what we can learn from translating it internally.

"Internally?"  They were curious.

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I explained that when I tutor Book 1, there are almost always (at least for the last 5 years) participants who are not Baha'i.  By way of assisting them, I tell them to feel free to translate what they read, as it was written specifcally for new Baha'is from a Catholic background.

"One of the questions," I tell them, "asks if, as a Baha'i, you can do such and such.  Not a Baha'i?  Read it as if it asks you as a spiritual human being."

The question, of course, asks if it is permissable, as a Baha'i, to drink alcohol.  The answer is "no", but when you read it "as a spiritual human being, can you drink alcohol", the discussion is quite different.  The answer is 'yes', but then it opens up the discussion to that of the Laws of the Faith, and how they are only binding on Baha'is.  Of course, they are good laws for everyone, and we can speak about the dangers of alcoholism.  The discussion goes in a very different direction than it would if we were all Baha'i, and is quite rewarding.

One question is about whether or not it is permissable to confess your sins.  If you're not from a Catholic background, this is fairly immaterial.  The intention of the question, however, is still important.  Is it permissable for another person to forgive your transgressions for you?   Obviously no, and we look back at the quote about bringing yourself to account.

Most importantly, though, is when I encourage them to "translate" the phrase, "Baha'u'llah says".  "Use the phrase 'Jesus teaches' and see if it still holds true."  Of course, it does.

I call this the most important thing because by learning to translate the book in this manner, a few things seem to happen.  First, they are learning the very important art of listening to the intention behind what someone is saying, instead of merely the words, which can often be a block when dealing with people of different backgrounds.

Second, experience has shown that when they translate "Baha'u'llah says" to "Jesus teaches", they are making an equation between Them that is very healthy and, in fact, accurate.  One Christian participant said that she was surprised when she was listening to a sermon and, when the Priest said "Jesus teaches us", she translated it in her mind as "Baha'u'llah teaches us".  She nows sees the synonymity (is that a word?) between Them.

A friend of mine used to use the word "Creator" whenever he saw the word "God" in the book.  Was that ok?  Sure, why not?

Another participant would read "Buddha teaches us that" whenever she saw the words "Baha'u'llah says" or "'Abdu'l-Baha says".  Was that good?  Seems good to me.

It reminds me of a story of Hand of the Cause of God, Dr Muhajir, when he was asked about the natives in a particular area where he was living.  He said that they were naked and heavily tattooed.  "Well," someone asked, "what did you do? Did you tell them to put on clothes?"

 "No," was his response, "why should I? I didn't go there to tell them to put on clothes. I went there to tell them about Bahá'u'lláh."

This is how I view the study circles.  We are there to assist in them in developing their spiritual identity.  For some, this will entail them joining the Baha'i community.  For others, they will get a greater understanding of the teachings of the Blessed Beauty, and isn't that enough for them?

I think that when we trust in this process, allow the friends to develop as much they are able, and keep the vision of growth in mind, we will see more and more miracles occur.

I know that in some areas, there has been concern about "translating" the books so that they are culturally appropriate, but are we not then denying these friends from other cultures the opportunity to learn this internal translation process?  While there are exceptions, my own experience has been that they are quite rare.

For now, I use the books as they are, and encourage an open dialogue on what is there.   The rewards have been tremendous.

So, are they culturally relevant?  I think so.  At least, I believe helping bridge the gap between cultures is always relevant.

But that's only my own opinion.  Others are free to theirs, of course.

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