Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Thousand Steps, or Maybe Just Four

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, or so the old saying goes. I find the same is true with writing. A journey of a thousand words begins with a single letter.

Or in my case, it begins with an idea.

The idea today is from a Pilgrim's note, in which 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "The Blessed Beauty often remarked: 'There are four qualities which I love to see manifested in people: first, enthusiasm and courage; second, a face wreathed in smiles and a radiant countenance; third, that they see all things with their own eyes and not through the eyes of others; fourth, the ability to carry a task, once begun, through to the end.'" This quote, by the way, comes from Hand of the Cause of God, Mr Furutan, in his book Stories of Baha'u'llah.

Although the initial seed for this comes from point 4, I think perhaps I'll look at all the points, for they seem related to me. I often see them as four steps, for I believe that Baha'u'llah put them in that order for a reason. As I'm sure you know by now, I don't believe that anything in the Writings is random, and that when we see a list like this, we can learn something from the ordering within it.

"First, enthusiasm and courage". It occurs to me that these words both have an interesting origin.

Enthusiasm comes from the Greek en-theos, or God within. Of this word Louis Pasteur wrote, "The Greeks understood the mysterious power of the hidden side of things. They bequeathed to us one of the most beautiful words in our language - the word enthusiasm - en theos - a god within. The grandeur of human actions is measured by the inspiration from which they spring. Happy is he who bears a god within, and who obeys it."

Courage comes from the word coeur, or heart. To be courgeous means to be filled in the heart. Of this word, Baha'u'llah Himself says, "The source of courage and power is the promotion of the Word of God, and steadfastness in His Love." I often refer to this quote because so many friends say that I am able to teach because I have courage. "No", I reply, "I have courage because I teach."

So the first part of this quote seems to say that Baha'u'llah loved to see us recognizing and obeying that part of us within ourselves that is divine in origin, and having the courage to act on what we know is of God. This, of course, is dependent upon our studying the Writings to ensure that what we find within us is actually of God and not just our own whim. When writing this blog, for example, the first thing I did was check out the guidelines from the World Centre about writing like this. Now, of course, I strive to be obedient to those guidelines, which is why there are a few issues I won't write about. My understanding of the guidance stops me. That, to me, is an important part of courage. The courage to stop yourself from doing something silly.

Part two of this quote is "a face wreathed in smiles and a radiant countenance", and oh, this is precious. I just love this step, for if we are not joyous in our work, why are we doing it? Even so important a Law as the Right of God, Huququ'llah, is dependent upon it. "The offering of every person", Baha'u'llah says,"that voluntarily tendereth the Huququ'llah with the utmost joy and pleasure may be accepted, otherwise acceptance was not and is not permissible." If we do not offer our payment with joy, it is not acceptable? Not permissible? I'd just love to see that stipulation on my tax return.

Really, though, there is more than that. 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "The confirmations of the Spirit are all those powers and gifts which some are born with (and which men sometimes call genius), but for which others have to strive with infinite pains. They come to that man or woman who accepts his life with radiant acquiescence." (I can't believe how long it took me to figure out how to spell acquiescence.)

It is this quality, a spirit of joy that is visible to those around, that seems to make a huge difference, both to you and to the one watching. Once we have the will to do something, it is often this spirit of joy that gives us the energy to actually do it.

Then we get to the third part, "that they see all things with their own eyes and not through the eyes of others". This is important, for it makes it our own. How often have people been talked into doing something that they didn't understand. They often begin, but get bogged down in the middle because they don't have the vision of the task.

I think of the Ruhi curriculum here. How many people have vocally risen against it, only because they don't see the vision of how it uses the practices to build skills? It is sad how many posts there are out there that speak of their dislike for this institute. It really shows a lack of understanding about how not everything is for everyone, but within the Baha'i Faith, we need to support those activities that lend themselves to the growth of the Faith.

For my own part, I began my work with the Ruhi books without having an understanding of them, but approached them with an attitude of wanting to learn why they seemed to be so effective. I knew that if I were to use this tool to the best effect I could, I would have to understand it for myself, and not merely do it out of obedience (although that obedience was a good starting point). It quickly became evident that there was more to it than I first thought. And then, while serving as a Regional Coordinator for a short time, and talking with many tutors, the need for the practices began to come forward as the key. Once we all focussed our attention there, we really began to see it with our own eyes, and that has made the difference.

But we cannot stop here. There is still one more step in that quote, the step that originally drew my attention here this morning: "the ability to carry a task, once begun, through to the end".

This article began with a seed, really. Two ideas that merged together: that of the journey of a thousand steps, and the quote from the Blessed Beauty. I knew, somewhere deep within my heart, that if I began writing with those two ideas, something would come of it, although I had no idea what.

Now it is clearer.

It seems that everything with begins with a thought. A good thought generates enthusiasm, but this amounts to nothing without the courage to begin to act on it. To take the next step requires some energy. Remember, that quote from Words of Wisdom speaks of the "source of courage and power", for courage without power can do nothing. So now we need the energy, and an energy that is visible, not hidden inside.

But then it needs direction. The third part is the vision that provides the direction.

And finally, it needs a destination. Sure, the journey is quite often the important thing, but when trying to accomplish a task, you need to know when the task is done, or else you end up never accomplishing anything. Life is too full of unfinished tasks, and all that accomplishes is a mess, so the less in that category the better.

When you begin a task, know what is required to finish it, and then do it. End it.

Like this article.


  1. Dear Friend, i like what you have to say, but (and of course you knew there would be a "but") i think we should always remember that a pilgrims note is NOT Holy script.
    I understand how much importance we should give to the words of the Hands of the Cause, but again, they are only human and their words and understandings are their own, and are not the words of the Center of the Cause.
    Thank you for your blog and for your input.
    Searched all of Ocean for this quote and couldn't find it there.
    Just my thoughts.

    Allah'u'Abha, unclenick

  2. Thank you, Uncle Nick, for the clarifcation. I completely agree with you, and that is why I mentioned the source at the beginning. It is only a pilgrim's note and should be taken as such, but this fact still bears repeating.

  3. @ anonymous/ sigh ... to point to the pilgrim notes/ the jump off point for an ideal/ is to miss the point. There is no officialdom here / but a personal perspective/ which questions and leads one back to the official writings/ so they can generate their own perspective

  4. There's the spirit and the letter--I liked your post because the quote--authentic or not was in the Baha'i Spirit. It wasn't telling anyone to be mean, or run over a dog. It was talking about spiritual qualities, each as a separate entity or bundled in four steps applied to any positive endeavor is a good thing.