Wednesday, February 3, 2010


The Blessed Perfection suffered innumerable ordeals and calamities, but during His lifetime He trained in all regions many souls who were peerless. The purpose of the appearance of the Manifestations of God is the training of the people. That is the only result of Their mission, the real outcome. The outcome of the whole life of Jesus was the training of eleven disciples and two women. Why did He suffer troubles, ordeals and calamities? For the training of these few followers. That was the result of His life. The product of the life of Christ was not the churches but the illumined souls of those who believed in Him. Afterward, they spread His teachings.

It is my hope that you all may become the product of the life of Bahá'u'lláh and the outcomes of His heavenly training. When the people ask you, "What has Bahá'u'lláh accomplished?" say to them, "He has created these; He has trained us."
This is one my favorite quotes from 'Abdu'l-Baha, found in Promulgation of Universal Peace.  Why is this one of my favorites?  For starters, it places the whole mission of Jesus into a perspective that we rarely see, and yet, it is one that makes so much sense.  It obviously conforms to the historical reality as we know it.

But what really touches me is the concept of training and the role it plays in the development of a civilization.  After all, those study circles we all engage in, those study groups we join to do the Ruhi books, are part of the training institute.  This begs the question, "What is training?"

If we look in the dictionary, it cleverly tells us that training means "the education, instruction, or discipline of a person or thing that is being trained".  Maybe it's just me, but I think that definitions that include the defined word in it are generally useless, and so we now have to look up the word "train".

According to the dictionary, the verb form of the word "train" means "to develop or form the habits, thoughts, or behavior of" and individual.  Now we're getting somewhere.  When looking at the origin of the word, it seems to come from a previous term meaning "to instruct" or "to drag behind".  Well, that often describes what the training looks like from the perspective of the instructor: dragging the unwilling students forward.  Fortunately that's not what it looks like in a study circle.

But let's look at this in the context of the Faith (after all, isn't that why we're here), and the training institute.

What is involved in training?  What is its purpose?  How do we measure it?

Training requires instruction, repetition and action.  Measurement is easy: we look at the results of the action.  And it is always for a purpose.  So what is the purpose of the training that 'Abdu'l-Baha refers to?

While I am not completely certain, I would venture to guess that it is service to humanity for the goal of helping to establish a divine civilization.  And don't we all need training in that?  I mean, really, no one has ever built a divine civilization before.  We may have the blueprints, but now, as the builders, we need on-the-job training.

So how does this training in the training institute work?  Sort of like training in sports, I believe.

We begin each session with a bit of a warm-up, otherwise known as prayers.  From there, looking at the curriculum, we start with simple exercises, designed to develop the most basic habit of all: looking at the Writings.

I have to point out, here, that I have noticed an amazing difference between myself and those who have entered into the Faith under the guidance of the training institute.  When I am consulting in a group, my inclination, unfortunately, is to add in my own ideas and perspective as we go along (in case you haven't noticed).  Those more mature believers who have recently enrolled are always turning to the Writings first, for guidance.  This, for them, is a habit they don't even need to think about.  They just do it, and presume that we all do.  God bless them, for they will propel the Faith forward in its development far faster and more efficiently than a thousand poor souls like yours truly.

So, there you have it.  The first requirement for training: developing a habit.  And which habit, in particular, are we interested in?  Turning to the Writings (after saying those prayers).

The practice, as you know, in the first unit of Ruhi Book 1 is to read a bit of the Writings every morning and evening.  When we do this, those Writings begin to shape our very thoughts.  We find ourselves drawing upon them more and more, and this to greater effect when we have them memorized.  I like to think of it as the dietary regime for our training.  And once our thoughts are beginning to be shaped by them, our actions soon follow.

There is also a pattern, or method, to the training.  When you work with a sports trainer, they have a program already in mind.  They work on multiple skills simultaneously, ensuring that the simple skills are well developed before moving on to the more complex skills.

This is true in the Ruhi books, too.  We begin the whole thing with a section on deeds, or action.   It is no coincidence that the first quote in the entire curriculum, out of all the myriad quotes they could have used, is "The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct."  After all, if our spiritual life does not result in deeds, what good is it?

But those deeds must be based in truthfulness, which is the second topic addressed.  After all, if our deeds are not truthful, what good are they?  However, it is possible to do something, be truthful and really hurt someone ("Golly, that dress really makes you look fat").

Kindness is needed, and is therefore the third topic.  We must be kind, for if we are not, we can say as much truth as we want, but the people will never listen.  Their hearts will be closed to us, and to our words.

Finally, we may actually do something, be truthful and think that we are being kind, but discover we are backbiting.  Backbiting?  Don't do it. Nothing will destroy the bonds of trust and love within a community faster than backbiting and gossip.  Everything towards which we are working will truly come to nothing if we are backbiting.

This last section, the one on backbiting, makes many of us nervous.  At least it made me nervous.  Why?  Because in it Baha'u'llah tells us that "backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul".  Extinguishes the life of the soul?  What?  You mean to say that the life of my soul has been extinguished?  It's gone?  That's it?

Fortunately, someone heard my panic and took solace on me.  The very next unit is all about prayer, which "kindles" my soul.

There you have it.  If the soul is extinguished, prayer will re-ignite it.

And all of this is only the opening unit (plus a bit), the first of three in only the first book.

Now that we have been properly trained, regularly turn to the Writings before...  What?  What do you mean, "What if you haven't?"

Ok, let's take a quick peek, once again, in Unit 1 of Book 1.  Section 4, to be precise.  You know that question about "list 5 virtues"?  Well, as a tutor who has been trained with some pretty smart cookies, I learned to always ask the group to answer those questions in that section on their own before discussing them.  Now, this is a secret trick, so please don't tell anyone.  While they are answering that first question, I'm watching them. Do they flip back looking for those 5 virtues?  Of course!  We all do.  We all fell for that trick.

Oh, we didn't?  Well then, those that don't flip back are the ones I ask to answer the next question, "How can a kindly tongue be described?"  I can just about guarantee that they will give some long-winded, wonderful answer that has nothing to do with the quote.  By simply asking, "Thanks, and what does the quote say?" they are now trained to look back at the Writings.  Works every time.

But enough of that.

Now that we are looking at the Writings, our heart naturally turns to our Creator in thanks.  We pray.  It is so natural a response that it's almost silly to have a unit on it.  But silly it is not.  It is an important habit that we must continually develop, and we like to cultivate that.  The practice, however, is a bit interesting: study a prayer with someone.  We are not asked to pray with someone (although that is good), nor memorize a prayer with someone (which is also good), but to study it.

Why is that?

Again, I won't profess to have an authoritative answer, just one that works for me. I like to study a prayer with others because it helps make that mind/heart connection, which is so vital if we are to get as much as possible out of the Writings.  We always find more in the prayers than we dreamed of, and discover new perspectives that enrich our spiritual life.

This mind/heart conection is so important a part of our training, and one that was continually iterated and re-iterated (and re-re-iterated) by the Central Figures of our Faith.  It is, to my eye, the foundation of the principal of the independant investigation of truth.

And through it all, we are continually shown how to apply the Writings in action.  This is our training, a pattern that was established so early in our history.

I could go on and on, quoting those marvelous messages from the Universal House of Justice and the International Teaching Centre about the importance of the training institutes, and continue to describe what you already know about the Ruhi books, but really, I think that's enough for now.

Training requires the imparting of basic knowledge, repetition until that basic knowledge sinks in and becomes a habit, and the application of that knowledge.  Once the basics are mastered, or at least accomplished with a fair degree of facility, then we can go on to more complex tasks, until they, too, become second nature.

And this, to me, is what the Manifestations of God try to help us do.  They train us in virtuous behaviour, in such a manner so that it becomes second nature to do a virtuous act.

Come to think of it, that is the secret behind the parable of Good Samaritan, isn't it?  He did what needed to be done without even giving it a second thought.

Hopefully my son will be able to arise to that level of service.  I know I still give it a second thought, but who knows?  There may be hope for me yet.

At least when people ask me "What has Baha'u'llah done?"  I can point to those other Baha'is around me and say, "Well, He has trained them."

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