Monday, April 11, 2011

The Ruhi-Style: A Thought

"Can you facilitate a study of these quotes", she asked me, "in a Ruhi-style?" I had no idea what that meant. I mean, I had heard this request many times in the past, or the similar "We're going to study this Ruhi-style." What I presume this means, this "Ruhi-style", is to look at a passage from the Writings and ask a few simple questions, the answer to which is the passage itself. Oh, and then you would look at a few simple applications of said passage in your daily life.

But that, as you know, dear Reader, is only the simplest and most basic level of study that is done in the Ruhi curriculum.

My answer, as you can guess, was a simple "No, I can't."

Of course, this was followed by an explanation: The Ruhi-style, as far as I can tell, is to have a very specific goal in mind and then take years of trial and reflection to see how to best achieve that goal. It  requires an awareness of which quotes to try and use, with the open-mindedness to try different ones and see if they are more effective. It also demands a long-range vision with the understanding of the various steps needed to realize that vision.

There is, of course, much more than this, but it is a start towards explaining why I couldn't just take a few quotes and do a "Ruhi-style" study of them.

Oh, and please don't get me wrong. The intention was noble and wonderful: a study of the Writings. I only had a question about the term. What was really intended was to have a deepening, another aspect of Baha'i community life.

A few days ago I was asked to go over the first few books of the Ruhi curriculum and talk a bit about the coherency of them. In other words, I was being asked to help a few of the friends see the patterns within them that help them to work so well, or at least that's how I interpreted it. As some of them said that it was helpful to see all that, I figured it might make a good item to include here on this blog.

It's funny, though. I began, as I usually do, with a simple question: "What is the first quote in Ruhi Book 1?"

Well, I thought it was simple. A couple of people knew, but the first response was, "Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues."


I'm sure you already know that it is actually, "The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct."

When another friend gave that answer, I immediately asked, "Why? Out of all the magnificent quotes from all the hundreds of books and letters Baha'u'llah wrote, why did they choose that quote to begin the entire sequence of courses of the Ruhi Institute?"

There was a bit of discussion on it, and I explained that I don't really know the answer. I only had a theory. And you know what? They came to the same conclusion that I had. I guess there's hope for me, after all.

They decided that it all begins with action. Without action, nothing gets done. As Shoghi Effendi so powerfully put it, "Without his support, at once whole-hearted, continuous and generous, every measure adopted, and every plan formulated, by the body which acts as the national representative of the community to which he belongs, is foredoomed to failure. The World Center of the Faith itself is paralyzed if such a support on the part of the rank and file of the community is denied it. The Author of the Divine Plan Himself is impeded in His purpose if the proper instruments for the execution of His design are lacking. The sustaining strength of Bahá'u'lláh Himself, the Founder of the Faith, will be withheld from every and each individual who fails in the long run to arise and play his part."

Then I asked them what the theme of the section was. Well that was easy: Deeds, or action.
From this point on they pretty much carried the presentation themselves. There was very little I had to do.
I explained how I like to make a table of contents in the beginning of each unit (the books are made up of three units, each of which have a number of sections). For the first unit it looked something like this:
  • 1 and 2 - Deeds
  • 3 and 4 - Truthfulness
  • 5 and 6 - Kindness
  • 7 and 8 - Backbiting (Don't do it)
Of course, you shouldn't just use the labels we came up with. Find your own that have meaning to you.

Then I asked them why they thought those four topics were in that order.

And that, dear Reader, is one of the secrets to looking like you know what you're talking about. Ask the audience what they think. They will naturally presume that you knew what they would come up with all along.

In a nutshell, they said, "It all begins with action. But your actions have to be based on truth, or what good are they? However, you can be truthful and mean ("Wow, that dress is really ugly on you"), so kindness is important. Finally, you can think you're being kind but actually be backbiting, so be careful."

Then I asked them what happens if you backbite. Of course, they all immediately referred to the quote that says it extinguishes the life of the soul. "Eeep! You mean the life of my soul is extinguished? What do I do?"

Well, the second unit is all about prayer, which will "kindle thine own soul". And what does "kindle" mean?

"It's an E-reader that lets you become more aware of the Sacred Texts."

(Smart alec)

It means to ignite if not already lit, or to make burn brighter if it is. In other words, it is the answer to the concern about backbiting.

And the third unit? It gives us the overall vision of why we are doing what we are. It shows us the arc of our soul path throughout it's development. It is all about the life of the soul, our part of our motivation.

But what about the last section?

"Based on your experience, what did people talk about when you got to this last section?" As you know, this is the section in which you talk about those four points: How does this course affect your obedience to the laws? How does it affect your desire to serve humanity? To serve the faith? And your relation to the Covenant? (I don't have the book with me, but it's pretty close to that.)

And then it got interesting (well, it was interesting all along, but here it seemed to swerve a moment.). Someone began to talk about what they would expect people to talk about. And so I stopped them and asked them what people did talk about.  Based on experience.

The group basically said that people focused on the second question, the service to humanity.

And what a coincidence! Ruhi Book 2 is all about "Arising to Serve".

What a great lead into the second book.

"And without looking, what is the section of Ruhi Book 2 about?"

Ok. Now I had a few blank stares.

"Oneness of humanity?" "Equality of women and men?" (Hey, have you ever notice how I always put women first, there?)

And then someone got it: "Universal Education!"

"And what", I asked, "is Book 3 about?"

"Children's classes."

So you see, it all makes perfect sense. It works because there is a method to it all. A pattern, if we but look.

Now I'm sure you knew all this, dear Reader, but it seemed to really help a number of us to actually articulate it.

It also led to some of the friends re-think how they would invite others to participate, but that's another article.


  1. Geraldine GuilfoyleApril 14, 2011 at 9:31 AM

    I love this Mead!

    Thanks - funny and insightful (spiritually speaking that is).

  2. Appreciate these reflections...helpful in preparing for new study circle--thank you! From Japan!