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Notes:
See also Hassall's Baha'i Communities by Country: Research Notes.

Presented at the Association for Bahá'í Studies Australia and New Zealand Conference, Auckland, 11-12 July 1998.


Bahá'í Communities in the Asia-Pacific:
Performing Common Theology and Cultural Diversity on a 'Spiritual Axis'

by Graham Hassall and William Barnes

1998-07
Abstract: Bahá'í Communities emerged in North Asia and in Australasia in the early years of the Twentieth Century, and throughout most remaining regions of the Asia-Pacific by its mid-point. In the 1950s Shoghi Effendi (Guardian of the Faith 1921-1957) articulated the relationship between the Bahá'ís of the northern and southern regions of the Asia-Pacific as that of poles to a ‘spiritual axis'. This metaphor was used to deliver to small religious communities the tasks that they faced in establishing closer relations. It also sought to raise consciousness of the geographic, cultural, political, and economic barriers impeding their close relations. This paper reviews Bahá'í Scripture on cultural relations in the Asia-Pacific and the activities undertaken by regional Bahá'í Communities to accomplish their unifying task. It also places the activities of Bahá'í Communities in the context of wider social change and asks whether the resulting Bahá'í model of cultural ‘unity in diversity' can be useful in wider contexts.

This paper seeks to understand the relationship between the diverse Bahá'í Communities in the Asia-Pacific region, as outlined in the Bahá'í Writings and embodied in practice. For believers, the Bahá'í sacred Scriptures express the will of the ‘Divine Mind'. As with other religions, the Bahá'í Writing comprise laws and exhortations, parables and metaphors. The meaning of some texts is clear and apparent (with reproaches to those who seek to complicate it) while the meaning of other texts is multi-layered and open to hermeneutic interpretation.

Impetus toward the growth of Bahá'í Communities derives from three "charter documents": Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet of Carmel (which sowed the seeds of Bahá'í governance on Mt Carmel, Israel), 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets of the Divine Plan (letters to the Bahá'ís of North America that outline a program of geographic dispersion that commenced following World War One and was only completed in the early 1990s), and 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament (which creates the Institution of 'Guardianship' occupied by Shoghi Effendi, as well as other administrative bodies). Of course, Bahá'í Scripture includes a great many works besides these, and is complemented too by the interpretative texts of Shoghi Effendi and the ‘divinely-sanctioned' texts issued by the Universal House of Justice.

The first intimations of what Shoghi Effendi later identified as a "spiritual axis" appeared in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets of the Divine Plan:

...a party, speaking the languages, severed, holy, sanctified and filled with the love of God, must turn their faces to and travel through the three island groups of the Pacific Ocean,--Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia, and the islands attached to these groups, such as New Guinea, Borneo, Java, Sumatra, Philippine Islands, Solomon Islands, Fiji Islands, New Hebrides, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia, Bismarck Archipelago, Ceram, Celebes, Friendly Islands, Samoa Islands, Caroline Islands, Low Archipelago, Marquesas, Hawaiian Islands, Gilbert Islands, Moluccas, Marshall Islands, Timor and other islands.

In the same Tablet 'Abdu'l-Bahá says:

Likewise, if some teachers go to other islands and other parts, such as the continent of Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, also to Japan, Asiatic Russia, Korea, French Indo-China, Siam Straits Settlements, India, Ceylon and Afghanistan, most great results will be forthcoming";

and

"Likewise, from Germany teachers and believers may travel to the continents of America, Africa, Japan and China; in brief they may travel through all the continents and islands of the globe.

Abdu'l-Bahá's nomination of specific locations (some geographic, others political, as described in atlases of the period) established a global template for Bahá'í expansion for the remainder of the twentieth century. Clara and Hyde Dunn arrived in Australia in 1920 from California and their early achievements culminated in the formation in 1934 of the National Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand. The Bahá'í teachings were taken to Japan by Agnes Alexander, who arrived in 1914 from Hawaii (Kanichi Yamamoto was the first Japanese to become a Bahá'í, in Hawaii in 1902). In 1921 Miss Alexander took the Bahá'í Teachings to Korea, and in 1922 the Dunns promoted it in New Zealand.

If courage were required of a retired couple to migrate to an insecure future in the South Pacific, the decision of a single white female to reside in Japan demonstrated an equally rare determination. The Dunns resided in a post-colonial society that was racially arrogant and politically and economically associated with Britain and other colonies of the Empire rather than with its closer neighbours; Miss Alexander befriended a people whose government was increasingly militaristic, and which was harbouring dreams of imperial expansion. Such limited relations between Australia and Asia as existed in the inter-war period were conducted on both sides through a veil of ignorance, and in a climate of fear, uncertainty, and possibly - hatred.

Given the mood of the times only small numbers were impressed by the Bahá'í Teachings on universal racial equality and a vision of a globally harmonious society. The experience of the Second World War may have further diminished the numbers of those who were receptive to the idea that the human family has common interests and a common destiny. In the post war years, however, Bahá'í Communities continued to emerge throughout the Asia-Pacific. It was on the occasion of the formation of the National Assemblies in New Zealand and in North East Asia in 1957 that Shoghi Effendi referred to a 'spiritual axis' linking the destinies of the Bahá'í Communities of the north and south Pacific. There were at that time no other National Bahá'í Communities in the region - few, in fact, in any part of the world.

The "Spiritual Axis

Shoghi Effendi said formation of the Regional Spiritual Assembly for North East Asia in 1957 marked the opening of the ‘second chapter in the history of the evolution of His (ie Bahá'u'lláh's) Faith in the North Pacific area' and that it could not fail to ‘lend a tremendous impetus to its onward march in the entire Pacific Ocean...' It was an "event of far-reaching historic significance," whose repercussions were "bound to affect the immediate fortunes of the entire Bahá'í world." In a letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'í s of Australia written just four days later Shoghi Effendi further developed his theme, contrasting the unfolding spiritual unity of the Asian/Pacific region with its resistant material obstacles, and suggesting that Japan was destined "to have a preponderating share in awakening the peoples and races inhabiting the entire Pacific area," and to "act as the Vanguard of His hosts in their future spiritual conquest of the main body of the yellow race on the Chinese mainland."

He defined the "spiritual axis" as "extending from the Antipodes to the northern islands of the Pacific Ocean", one whose "northern and southern poles will act as powerful magnets, endowed with exceptional spiritual potency, and towards which younger and less experienced communities will tend for some time to gravitate." The Bahá'í Communities of the north and the south had "weighty and inescapable" responsibilities, which included working continually and confidently to overcome such obstacles as "distance, race, language, custom and religion," and refusing to allow powerful "political forces" to foment "racial and political antagonisms" that would impede the proper functioning of the spiritual axis. This effort required "close and continued association" between all the Bahá'í communities of the Pacific area, but especially between the two poles, for they are the nations endowed with "exceptional spiritual potency." The "peculiar and paramount task" of the Bahá'ís, wrote Shoghi Effendi, was to concentrate on building up their own Order (ie their administrative system), transforming within their own community relations those competing divisions that are evident in contemporary society into complementary distinctions within their Faith. When Japan and Australia worked together they influence the development of the entire Asian/Pacific region. When their Bahá'í communities cooperate even greater wonders spiritually can be wrought in what Shoghi Effendi called "vast area of the globe, an area endowed with unimaginable potentialities, and which, owing to its strategic position, is bound to feel the impact of world shaking forces, and to shape to a marked degree through the experience gained by its peoples in the school of adversity, the destinies of mankind."

Shoghi Effendi's letter explained how the Australian Bahá'ís had a ‘twofold task' of multiplying and expanding Bahá'í institutions in ‘the Australian commonwealth and in the islands beyond its confines', and forging ‘fresh links with its sister communities, and particularly those situated in the North', in preparation for future tasks they were ‘destined and are collectively called upon to discharge.'

The Australian Bahá'í Community is to ‘lend whatever assistance is possible' to the New Zealand Bahá'í Community, to prepare it for participation in ‘collective enterprises that must, sooner or later, be launched and carried to a successful conclusion by the island communities situated in the Northern and Southern regions as well as in the heart of the Pacific Ocean'. The people of Japan had acquired ‘innate capacity and... spiritual receptivity' as a consequence of the ‘severe and prolonged ordeal' they had experienced, and the Japanese Bahá'í Community is destined to have ‘a preponderating share in awakening the peoples and races inhabiting the entire Pacific area' to the Message of Bahá'u'lláh, and to ‘act as the Vanguard of His hosts in their future spiritual conquest' of the people of mainland China. The Asia-Pacific Region is one having ‘unimaginable potentialities', and a ‘strategic position', and is ‘bound to feel the impact of world shaking forces, and to shape to a marked degree through the experience gained by its peoples in the school of adversity, the destinies of mankind.'

Thus, in just two communications, Shoghi Effendi shaped the destinies of the oldest and largest Bahá'í Communities in the region as well as the newest and smallest. Each was to pursue progress within the traditional boundaries of nation and culture, and at the same time was to participate in the forging of new spiritual relationships. Forty years of effort have shown how difficult such a task has proven to be. If "Community" in the sense that Bahá'ís experience at the regional level in the Asia Pacific is not a political community, nor a cultural nor economic one, how is it to be characterised? What is the content of ‘spiritual community'? In the Guardian's messages to the Bahá'ís of Australia one is struck by his repeated emphasis upon the intimate spiritual connections these believers had with regions physically distant from them, and of the spiritual responsibilities geographically remote peoples shared by being members of the same Faith and sharing the same ocean. For example, he said in 1950 that the establishment of the Faith by the Australian believers in the islands of the Pacific linked them with "their sister communities in the American continents" and with "the communities in South-Eastern Asia."

The Six-Year Plan, concluded in 1953 infused the 'poles' of the Spiritual Axis, Shoghi Effendi suggested, with the "spiritual potentialities essential to the launching of a mighty Crusade" and fitted their community to shoulder the more arduous task of initiating, in conjunction with "its neighboring sister communities in Latin America and in the Indian Sub-continent", the "spiritual conquest of the multitudinous islands of the South Pacific Ocean." In that same message he reminded them to remain "conscious of the substantial share of responsibility they must assume, in conjunction with the Indian, the Pakistani, the North American, and the Latin American followers of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, in uplifting the banner of the Most Great Name amidst the dwellers of these scattered, distant and in some cases isolated, Islands of the South, and in drawing them into the orbit of His constantly evolving Administrative Order..."

Thus not just the parent Bahá'í communities in the spiritual axis, nor even these communities plus those of North America shared responsibility for the early development of the spiritual axis. The Bahá'í communities of Latin America, South-East Asia, and the Indian sub-continent have important parts to play also. These all are part of what is now called the Pacific Rim.

‘Spiritual axis' as metaphor

For Shoghi Effendi material events signified unfolding spiritual processes. Tumultuous relations between peoples, races and nations were, under the guidance of Providence, gradually shaping different regions to conform to divine will and vision. The term ‘Spiritual axis' provided Shoghi Effendi with a metaphor with which to convey to the Bahá'í Communities the tasks they faced at regional level. A second metaphor, that of magnetism, conveyed the idea that despite geographic, cultural, political, and economic barriers, other Bahá'í Communities in the region would ‘gravitate' toward the ‘poles'. This paralleling of the idea of magnetism in the physical world and in the spiritual realm was at the heart of a commentary on the Spiritual Axis by Peter Khan.

Shoghi Effendi's letters also use fluid descriptions to convey the implications of the processes that he saw in place in the region, both within and outside the Bahá'í Community. His references to "reciprocity", "equilibrium", organic growth, etc. encourage a sense of evolution and forward progress in Bahá'í activities. Quite possibly, the concept of the "Spiritual Axis" linking Bahá'í Communities in the Asia-Pacific region was paralleled by linkages between countries in other parts of the world, generated by Shoghi Effendi to embody the crucial task of binding diverse peoples into a common cause in tangible ways. There are parallels in the tasks allocated to Bahá'ís in other parts of the world: the British who established Bahá'í Communities in colonial Africa, and the American Community, allocated the task of re-establishing the Faith in post-war Germany. In Asia, the complex matter of Japanese military expansion throughout the North Pacific Islands and South East Asia in the first half of the twentieth century provides a backdrop to the work which is to be achieved by the Bahá'í communities.

Equilibrium

In April 1957 Shoghi Effendi said the formation of a regional Assembly in Northeast Asia represented both "the culmination of a fifty-year old process" begun by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and "the opening of the second chapter in the history of the evolution of His Faith in the North Pacific Area." In his July letter Shoghi Effendi added definition to these sentences, stating:

The rise and expansion of the Administrative Order of the Faith in the northern region of the vast Pacific Ocean fills a great gap, and constitutes a notable parallel to the rise of similar institutions in the Antipodes, establishing thereby a spiritual equilibrium destined to affect, to a marked degree, the destinies of the Faith throughout the islands of the Pacific Ocean, in the years immediately ahead. It should be hailed, moreover, as a momentous development paving the way for the eventual introduction of the Faith into the far-flung Chinese mainland and, beyond it, to the extensive territories of Soviet Russia.

Clearly, Shoghi Effendi envisaged a collaborative process in which Pacific Islands' communities somehow combine with the Bahá'ís of Japan and Korea to contribute to the growth of the Bahá'í Faith in what were then the communist states of Russia and China. The idea of 'equilibrium' suggests that a certain 'balance' between the capacities of the communities was essential to their successful collaboration. To this was added a further necessary condition, synchronicity.

Synchronicity

Great developments in one Bahá'í community synchronize with developments in other Bahá'í communities, revealing hidden influences operating between them. The "vibrating influence" of the construction of one of the important institutions of the Faith upsets the equilibrium of the "old world order" and further integrates the new. These are not separate events. It upsets the old order because it integrates the new. In his first spiritual axis letter, the Guardian informed the Bahá'ís of the North Pacific area that the Six-Year Plan of 1957-1963 was a "God-given opportunity" presented, as is so often the case, at "so critical a stage in the history of the peoples and nations" of this region.

The phrase "a God-given opportunity" was a challenge to people in the entire region to radically redefine themselves spiritually rather than just reform themselves materially, though there were abundant material signals indicating this spiritual opportunity. They must tap the lingering spiritual effect created by the appalling slaughter of the Second World War and harness it to noble spiritual ends. The Six-Year Plan was "designed to lend a tremendous impetus to the awakening of the peoples and races in those regions." Thus for them the words "so critical a stage" meant that an ominous double challenge had arisen. The Bahá'ís had to inwardly resist at all costs the pull of a widening vortex of materialism emanating out of the Western Hemisphere and outwardly work as never before to build the promised Order while it was still relatively easy to do so.

Evolution

Shoghi Effendi saw the world as one and unified. Its unity was unfolding in stages by its own inner logic. The Order established by Bahá'u'lláh similarly unfolded by degrees, through a process of maturation. The full potential of the human body is latent in the first cell and unfolds according to the spiritual directives deposited within it. Similarly, the evolving Bahá'í community is a growing organism, in which events in any part have a profound impact on developments in other parts. Until 1957 and even many years after, the principle messages indicating the flow of divine energy were directed to communities outside the axis region or to the parent communities of the axis. But in studying these messages one gets the very palpable sense of a world order unfolding, of communities working together, assisting each other in the erection of an immense structure; that to counter the world-shaking forces attacking the axis region world unifying forces were marshalled.

With the passing of Shoghi Effendi in November 1957 the task of elucidating the unfolding tasks facing the "spiritual axis" communities fell to the Hands of the Cause (1957-1963) and since 1963, to the Universal House of Justice. The idea thus had its genesis in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets of the Divine Plan, its clear presentation in three communications from Shoghi Effendi (his Message to the Northeast Asia Regional Spiritual Assembly Convention of April 1957; his letter to the Northeast Asia Regional Spiritual Assembly of 15 July 1957, and his letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Australia of 19 July 1957). Further clarifications are found in a letter from the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Australia of 12 July 1982, and the message to the Asian-Australian Conference in Canberra of 2 September 1982.

The Universal House of Justice Ridvan message to the Bahá'í Communities in 25 ‘Pacific' countries of Ridvan BE 1953 (April 1996) is the most recent source of guidance concerning their relationships and mutual responsibilities. It speaks of "the vital role to be played by the Bahá'í communities of Northeastern Asia and of the Antipodes in the spiritual illumination of the surrounding areas" because the " Bahá'í communities of Northeastern Asia and of the Antipodes" are called by the Guardian "powerful magnets." An important point about a physical magnet is that its respective poles are the complementary concentration of the forces in the whole magnet. The positive pole concentrates and organizes all the positive forces, and they literally gravitate toward that pole, while the negative charges gravitate toward and concentrate into a negative pole.

Japan in the north and Australia in the south concentrate within themselves forces that are diffused throughout the entire region of the spiritual axis. Thus the Ridvan 153 Message almost in its entirety is applicable to these two lands, as the immediate needs for creating strong and equal human relationships within the axis region are found in these two countries. The House of Justice mentions the need for indigenous believers to develop their potential; they call upon the women to uplift their status by demonstrating "the transforming power of this Revelation"; they discuss the importance of children's education for Bahá'í and non- Bahá'í children alike. All these find some resonant point in the social life of these lands which they have the material means to address, and which the Bahá'í communities must urgently meet. When the experienced Bahá'í communities living in the poles work hand in hand great unifying energies are released throughout the axis region. These complementary forces create a powerfully magnetic spiritual field that attracts both blessings and tests, yet form a vast union that cannot easily be broken.

These sentences evoke the Guardian's words in the spiritual axis letters where he spoke of the "weighty and inescapable" responsibilities of the peoples inhabiting the poles of the axis to fight against those various obstacles and barriers of "distance, race, language, custom and religion," and refusing to allow powerful "political forces" to foment "racial and political antagonisms" that would impede the proper functioning of the spiritual axis.

In regards to the specific tasks confronting Japan and Korea, which together form the northern pole of the axis, we read how: "In Northeastern Asia, the progress of the Faith has been most encouraging, and a good foundation has been laid for the Bahá'ís of Japan and Korea to magnify the size of their communities substantially during the Four Year Plan, while making a notable contribution to the work of the Faith in neighboring countries. Special attention should be given to the development of the Faith in the Ryukyu Islands and also to the exploration of any opportunities which might arise to carry the healing Message of Bahá'u'lláh to all parts of the Korean peninsula". The three tasks--magnifying the size of the national community, notably contributing to the work in neighboring countries, developing the Faith in the Ryukyu islands--are intimately connected.

The Ryukyu island culture represent a sub-culture within Japan that is perceived as not really Japanese. It is worthwhile briefly exploring the historical relations between the Ryukyu islanders, especially Okinawa, and mainland Japanese in light of this goal of the Four-Year Plan. Historically, the Ryukyu kingdom had close relations with many of the peoples of the Pacific islands and with the Chinese and peoples of Southeast Asia. Native Ryukyu islanders are of Polynesian descent. Ruled by independent kings in early times, the Ryukyus came under strong Chinese domination in the fourteenth century. Though still under their own kings, Chinese culture remained a powerful influence among Ryukyu people through most of the nineteenth century. The Ryukyu Kingdom made great strides forward in culture and civilization, experiencing golden periods in the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. The island of Okinawa was a great trading center, linking the peoples of the Asian mainland to the islands peoples of the Pacific.

In the seventeenth century Japan invaded the islands, and 1872 the Ryukyu Kingdom came under Meiji jurisdiction. In 1879 the kingdom officially came to an end when the Shuri Castle was turned over under police threat, ending 450 years of dynastic rule. The name was changed to Okinawa. In 1951 Japan renounced sovereignty over Okinawa, and handed the islands over to the United States. They were given back in 1972. But Ryukyu islanders, especially those inhabiting the two southern island groups of Okinawa and Sakishima, remain geographically and in many respects culturally closer to Taiwan, Hong Kong and southeast Asia than to mainland Japan.

Beyond the immediate focus on the spiritual regeneration of the Ryukyu islands, though, there are larger goals for the Bahá'í Community of Japan of which this forms an initial part. For the Japanese, the Ryukyu's are the gateway to the Pacific islands. Developing the Faith in the Ryukyu islands can be seen as the first major step toward the realization of Shoghi Effendi's promise that Japan would "have a preponderating share in awakening the peoples and races inhabiting the entire Pacific area." But, too, developing the Faith in the Ryukyus can be considered the first step toward conquering the Chinese mainland. How?

The "neighboring countries" of Japan which this community is supposed to make "a notable contribution to" are nearly all Chinese--Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China, lands and cultures with which the Ryukyu peoples traditionally had a strong connection. Developing the Faith in the Ryukyu's then may indicate one way for Japan to realize its destiny to "act as the Vanguard of His hosts in their future spiritual conquest of the main body of the yellow race on the Chinese mainland" lies through Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands.

Early interactions

Relations between the Antipodean and Japanese Bahá'í Communities were scant through the 1940s, and the desire for unity was tested by the imposition of war. The son of Sydney Bahá'í Mrs Hutchinson-Smith was a prisoner of war, and at the close of hostilities Australian Bahá'í Gordon McLeod visited Japan with British military forces. In the post-war years small connections began to be made: The National Assembly of India & Burma sent copies of radio talks by Mrs Emily Axford radio talks to a radio station in Tokyo; K. Robertson spoke on ‘Japan' at Auckland's Summer School in January 1949; Agnes Alexander reported on conferences of the Asian World Federation and Japanese Esperanto movement in the Australian Bahá'í Bulletin; in the early years of the World Crusade Australian Bahá'ís read of the arrival of Iranian pioneers in Japan, and of the first Asian Regional Teaching Conferences; Japanese Bahá'í donated beautiful carpets to the Mashriqu'l-Adkhar in Sydney at the time of its dedication in 1961; Bill Washington moved to Japan, and returned several years later with his wife Hiroko Washington, who now serves on the Auxiliary Board in Tasmania.

Over the years a series of international conferences have drawn together Bahá'ís from Asia and the Pacific Islands: in Sydney (1958, 1967 and 1992), Canberra (1982), Auckland (1977 and 1996), Suva (1971) and Sapporo (1971). Mr Michitoshi Zenimoto, who attended a major Bahá'í Conference in Sydney in 1958, was the first Japanese Bahá'í to visit Australia. Members of the Australian, New Zealand and North East Asian Assemblies met at that time to discuss future collaboration; they met again on the occasion of the Canberra conference. Interrelations between the Bahá'í communities have taken small steps forward, such as through participation in ‘sister-city' relationships, through the movement of pioneers, and through efforts by individuals to learn each others' languages.

Throughout this period of political turmoil and cultural estrangement experienced by peoples of the Asia-Pacific region, Shoghi Effendi referred to their shared destiny, and to the role that their Bahá'í Communities and Institutions shared for establishing and consolidating pillars of Bahá'u'lláh's World Order. Today, Asia-Pacific cooperation takes many forms - cultural, political, and economic: there does indeed appear to be a "magnetism" attracting the diverse cultures of the region to each other. Have the Bahá'í Communities been at the forefront of this magnetism, contributing to its strength? Or have the incidences of their association been more a result of external events? In time observers both within the Bahá'í Community and beyond it will examine the record, and compare the mandate given by Shoghi Effendi with the size of its accomplishments.

The Bahá'í Community as a ‘model community'

The Bahá'í Community seeks to model relations between diverse peoples and cultures in a manner that attracts the attention of others seeking similar ends: social harmony, unity in diversity. This modelling requires of Bahá'ís a strict adherence to the principles of their Faith (moral conduct, the application of social and administrative principles, etc) and at the same time encourages diverse responses to opportunities and the maximisation of individual initiative. Thus, while much activity undertaken by Bahá'í Communities focuses on shared goals, attention is similarly given to the origination of non-target goals: goals established by individuals for their own accomplishment.

Planning and goal-directed behaviour

Pursuit of progress through individual and group goal-setting is a fundamental element of the Bahá'í social order. It is intriguing, therefore, to note that Shoghi Effendi did not impose specific goals and objectives on the spiritual axis communities. If he had wanted to establish a formal framework for ‘Spiritual Axis' activities he need only have given the instruction. National bodies would have incorporated such goals within their existing plans, and would have devoted resources to them.

If the spiritual axis activities were described as having extreme urgency, why did Shoghi Effendi chose to set them in a more voluntaristic frame? The answer may relate to Shoghi Effendi's desire that relations be established through individual and community volition, rather than though a sense of institutional obligation. Rather than direct that Spiritual Axis activities be incorporated in existing plans, Shoghi Effendi spoke of a ‘two-fold' responsibility – that of conducting the plans as they were, and of also fostering relations between Bahá'í Communities at regional level. Any resulting activities, whether initiated by Bahá'í Institutions or by individuals, would demonstrate the free association of groups from diverse cultures, undertaken in addition to other responsibilities and concerns.

The Movement of Individuals

Part of being a model Community is the expression of multi-racial union. At the level of the individual, a Bahá'í may choose to live in another culture, whether for professional or other reasons. In 1996 there are Bahá'ís of Asian background living in various Pacific Islands. Robert Imagire, for example, a Japanese American who became a Bahá'í in the 1940s, resides in the Cook Islands. There are Malaysian Bahá'ís living in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and elsewhere in the Pacific. (A larger study would note the presence of Australian and New Zealand Bahá'ís not only in Japan but elsewhere in Northeast Asia, just as it would note the extent to which Bahá'ís from Japan and Korea now live elsewhere in the region).

A number of Australian Bahá'ís now reside or have spent periods of residence in Japan, and others are Japanese speaking and travel to Japan professionally. Michael Day, for instance, a journalist resident in Perth, met a scientist in Kyoto in 1994, Professor Kanji Kajiwara, who is a BahÇ 'ê . On his return to Perth he assisted in connecting Professor Kajiwara, with a scholar at Murdoch University, Dr Alan Barton, who was in the same field. As a result Dr Barton went to Kyoto on exchange in 1997, and Michael Day published an article on this exchange in The West Australian.

A number of Japanese and Australian youth have undertaken a "youth year of service" in countries in the region.

Initiatives by institutions

At the time of the Asian-Australian Conference in Canberra 1982 the NSAs of Australia and Japan met. The NSAs agreed to produce a pamphlet about the spiritual axis for the conference containing letters of Shoghi Effendi about the axis in English and Japanese. It was be designed by the National Assembly of Japan, produced in Japan and jointly financed. In the 1980s the Australian Pioneer Committee was conscious of the spiritual axis responsibilities, and promoted awareness of travel teaching and pioneering opportunities in the Pacific. An article titled "Evaluation: Results of the International Conference in Canberra" appeared in the March 1983 Australian Bahá'í Bulletin:

The National Teaching Committee was asked by the National Spiritual Assembly to supply evidence of the effects on the community of the Bahá'í International Conference. (p5)

The report mentions results in travel teaching, publicity, and teaching, and the fact that 'sister city relationships had been established between Japan, USA and Australia.' One of these sister city relationships was established between Rockhampton and Ibusuki. Collis and Madge Featherstone visited the mayor of Ibusuki with Counsellor Ruhu'llah Mumtazi and Mrs Motoka Power. Another twin city relationship was established between Newcastle and Ube. Onoda, just west of Ube, is a sister city of Redcliffe near Brisbane, although the Redcliffe Bahá'ís had decided not to be involved. Manukau City and Auckland City Bahá'ís have been involved in twinning cities in Japan.

Another initiative of the 1980s was the relaunching in 1984 of the magazine Herald of the South, which first appeared in 1925 as a means of informing its readership of Bahá'íactivities in the region.

Recent Developments

The past decade has seen a proliferation of projects in the Bahá'í Communities that could be characterised as lending impetus to the goals of collaboration along the Spiritual Axis. These include exchanges between students, youth, professionals, and communities. Other projects foster the arts, education, and the sciences. Some exist through the initiative of individuals and others through institutional support. Systematic plans of recent years have moved from simple models emphasising numeric expansion to more developed ones that also consider issues of Community and Institutional Development. Pacific Island Bahá'ís, for instance, are increasingly lending their expertise to the challenges of leadership, and the traditional roles of pioneers are consequently being reassessed and redefined. Despite ongoing challenges presented to these Communities by the forces of political confusion and social decline that are affecting all Pacific Islands' Societies, the Bahá'í Communities are uniquely positioned to act as a positive moral force in the decades immediately ahead.

The message of the Universal House of Justice at BE 153 draws on these strengths, and is calling on Pacific Islands' Bahá'í Communities to undertake collaborative programs at regional as well as national and local levels.

Within your region is to be found a vast diversity of races, cultures, languages and religious traditions, illustrative of the major influences which have shaped the affairs of humanity throughout history. One of this region's distinguishing features is described by the Guardian as "a spiritual axis extending from the Antipodes to the northern islands of the Pacific Ocean -- an axis whose northern and southern poles will act as powerful magnets, endowed with exceptional spiritual potency, and towards which other younger and less experienced communities will tend for some time to gravitate." This emphasizes the vital role to be played by the Bahá'í communities of Northeastern Asia and of the Antipodes in the spiritual illumination of the surrounding areas.

Every country of the region must witness, in the course of the Four Year Plan, a significant advance in the process of entry by troops. It is essential that the plans formulated on national and local levels reflect this vital aim. The advancement of this process will require that greater attention be given not only to fostering individual initiative in the teaching work, but also to developing human resources through the establishment and efficient operation of training institutes and other centres of learning, and to vastly increasing the strength and quality of the functioning of the Local Spiritual Assemblies.

At one point the message reads: "In Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii, there are well-established and soundly functioning Bahá'í communities, each characterized by an admirable record of accomplishments on the home front and by a notable contribution to the work of the Faith in other parts of the Pacific and beyond. We call upon the believers of these countries to strive for a fuller realization of their duty to advance the interests of the faith on the home fronts and throughout the length and breadth of the Pacific region. In their own countries, they should aspire to far greater attainments, marked by a substantial increase in the number of adherents and an enhanced public awareness of the distinctive character of the Bahá'í Faith and its followers. They can render invaluable assistance to other Bahá'í communities, not only in the Pacific region but in Southeast Asia and beyond, because of the experience they have acquired in the teaching and administrative fields and the resources to which they have access. The believers from the Pacific Islands who have taken up residence in these three countries should be mindful of the responsibilities which rest upon them to devise means by which they can contribute to the strengthening of the Bahá'í communities in the island nations from which they have come." (P.4:11)

The ‘Pacific Horizons' conference in Auckland in January 1996, which attracted participants from throughout the Pacific, as well as Japan, China, Hong Kong, Tawain, Thailand and Malaysia, stimulated relations between Bahá'í Communities throughout the region. Most recently, a "Spiritual Axis" meeting in Sydney in February 1997 hosted by the Australian National Spiritual Assembly facilitated consultation among some 80 representatives from at least 10 regional countries. An Australia-Japan Spiritual Axis Working group was subsequently established with membership in Australia and Japan, to identify potential collaborative projects. The Australian NSA considered its recommendations in December 1997 and made a number of decisions about the way forward. One additional major initiative has been the establishment of an internet list for discussion of the spiritual axis. The first edition of a new video title, Asia-Pacific Newsreel, established to report on the activities of the Bahá'í Communities of the region, appeared in May 1998.

The Bahá'í Community as a ‘learning community'

Recent messages from the Universal House of Justice suggest the need for a more visionary approach to the possibilities created by the concept of the spiritual axis. After forty years, sufficient experience has been accumulated by Bahá'í Communities in the region to allow for reflection and evaluation, and possible modification of approaches should they seem to require it. The emerging literature on 'learning organisations' provides some of the necessary tools. At the most fundamental level, there is a need to share Shoghi Effendi's messages with the Bahá'í s of the region, for the challenges of distance, literacy and translation, mean that the majority do not know of the concept and are therefore not well placed to contemplate possibilities for action.

Secondly, there is need for a small but responsive task force to oversee the coordination of Spiritual Axis projects on behalf of all participating communities. There are, apparently, a number of such task forces in existence, but their composition, terms of reference, communicative capacity, and method of operation could be beneficially reviewed. Spiritual Axis projects require a capable communicative capacity, both to inform participating communities of projects and their outcomes, and to educate an interested audience in the processes being undertaken. Commitment to being a learning organisation requires the digestion of learned experience, to ensure that the project moves forward, away from 'blockages', and not in repetitive or circular motions. Four evident blockages are a) the slow response rate of response to communications from task forces; b) the slow internal operation of task forces; c) the extended time interval between task force recommendations and the deliberations of key administrative bodies; and d) the absence of reporting and evaluation procedures that allow the Community and its institutions to learn from experience.

Given the diffuse nature of "spiritual axis" activities, an adequate reporting structure must be established, whereby the efforts of numerous projects sponsored by individuals and by Bahá'í agencies can be easily drawn on, and whereby those who have the desire to participate actively in "Axis" activities can do so.

Activities of the Association for Bahá'í Studies, the Bahá'í Business and Professional Association, and national and continental Pioneer Committees come to mind. Daystar International School, the only Social and Economic Development project of the NSA of Japan at the present time, is consciously developing relations along the Spiritual Axis. The school has also hosted several groups of Koreans on one-week homestay/language and culture study programs, and hosted scholars from Australia (Stephen Hall, Golshah Nahgdy) and the Philippines (Philip Flores, Humaida Jumalon). Two exchange students from Tonga attended the school for two years. An instance of an individual initiative is New Zealand Bahá'í Eric Neal's "Unitylink" homepage, which allows individuals and communities to establish friendships and 'sister community' relationships.

Projects that advance the interests of the spiritual axis might include collaboration on beneficial educational and social research and development projects; sharing existing materials and working together to create materials and select viable methods for families to use to deepen their understanding of the Faith; 'home-stay' programs that facilitate the visits of Bahá'í s to other countries and Bahá'í Communities in the region for the sharing of their cultures and the relating of their experiences as Bahá'ís in their own country or the country in which they are living as pioneers. When an initiative is commenced, it will be desirable to ensure the most widespread consultation possible, to ensure that all Bahá'í Communities in the region have the opportunity to participate and to benefit from both contributing to and receiving from, Spiritual Axis initiatives.

"Axis" related activities need not be commenced by Bahá'ís, but may consist in Bahá'ís joining in other organisations. Service organisations such Rotary International exist throughout the region. In Japan there is a Japan-Australia and in Australia, an Australia-Japan Society, established to promote understanding between the two countries. Japanese cities have established extensive ties with cities in other countries, in keeping with their preference for international contact within a formal, controlled environment. In 1995 Craig Volker, who teaches South Pacific Studies at Gifu Shotoku Gakuin University, facilitated a visit by three students to the Bahá'í Community of Madina, New Ireland, in Papua New Guinea. The students took part in traditional dances to mark the 20th anniversary of Independence and several chiefs mentioned that it was the first time they had seen Japanese adopt Melanesian culture. The BahÇ 'ê Community of Cairns, Queensland, has recently established a relationship with a Japanese-owned school which accommodates Japanese students who come to Australia for their education. They have hosted them to a couple of picnics and are planning other events. Keith Whenmouth, a member of the Community who is an architect, designed the school, and the Whenmouth family has made good friends with the owner and principal, as well as some of the students.

Many projects have been established in the Pacific Islands which could use the resources and expertise of Bahá'í communities. These include Bahá'í schools in Tonga, Kiribati, Guam and the Marshall Islands. Regional projects will require financial support, which is best achieved in the Bahá'í view through universal participation.

Most importantly, guidance in the Bahá'í Writings on the Spiritual Axis emphasises the need for urgent attention to be given to the establishment of close harmonious relations between divergent peoples and cultures in the region. The deterioration of social and political conditions on a global scale is stimulating returns to nationalism and racism, and more moderate voices are seeking quite desperately for embodied examples of racial and cultural harmony and reciprocity. If Bahá'í Communities in this region do not fulfil their divine mandate during this crucial time they will have failed to heed Shoghi Effendi's original call.

A responsibility, at once weighty and inescapable, must rest on the communities which occupy so privileged a position in so vast and turbulent an area of the globe. However great the distance that separates them; however much they differ in race, language, custom, and religion; however active the political forces which tend to keep them apart and foster racial and political antagonisms, the close and continued association of these communities in their common, their peculiar and paramount task of raising up and of consolidating the embryonic World Order of Bahá'u'lláh in those regions of the globe, is a matter of vital and urgent importance, which should receive on the part of the elected representatives of their communities, a most earnest and prayerful consideration.

Appendix I: Shoghi Effendi's letter to Australia

Dear and valued co-workers:

The progress achieved in recent years, rapid and extraordinary as it has been, by the Bahá'í Communities labouring so patiently, so methodically, and so faithfully, for the consolidation and expansion of the institutions of the embryonic World Order of Bahá'u'lláh in the Antipodes, has been highly gratifying and has served to deepen my confidence in their ability to achieve their high destiny, and to evoke sentiments of ever-increasing admiration for the manner in which they have acquitted themselves of their task in the face of varied and almost insurmountable obstacles.

Particularly commendable, and indeed exemplary, has been the share of the Australian believers in enabling the New Zealand Bahá'í Community to make such rapid strides, in recent years, strides that have prepared it for the assumption of its sacred and vital function as an independent community, and which culminated in the formation of a body qualified to take its place, and assume the weighty responsibilities incumbent on it, as a distinct and separate member of the world-wide family of Bahá'í National and Regional Spiritual Assemblies. The great and signal honour, conferred upon their homeland through the selection of one of the most highly advanced, the most populous, and one of the most progressive of its cities - enjoying already the distinction of being the first among them to be opened to the Message of Bahá'u'lláh and to be warmed by the rising Sun of His Revelation - as the site of the Mother Temple of the Antipodes, and indeed of the whole Pacific area, moreover, proclaims their right to be considered the vanguard of His hosts, and the defenders of the stronghold of the Administrative Order of His Faith, in that vast area of the globe, an area endowed with unimaginable potentialities, and which, owing to its strategic position, is bound to feel the impact of world shaking forces, and to shape to a marked degree through the experience gained by its peoples in the school of adversity, the destinies of mankind.

The emergence of a new Regional Spiritual Assembly in the North Pacific Area, with its seat fixed in the capital city of a country which by reason of its innate capacity and the spiritual receptivity it has acquired, in consequence of the severe and prolonged ordeal its entire population has providentially experienced, is destined to have a preponderating share in awakening the peoples and races inhabiting the entire Pacific area, to the Message of Bahá'u'lláh, and to act as the Vanguard of His hosts in their future spiritual conquest of the main body of the yellow race on the Chinese mainland - the emergence of such an Assembly may be said to have, at long last, established a spiritual axis, extending from the Antipodes to the northern islands of the Pacific Ocean - an axis whose northern and southern poles will act as powerful magnets, endowed with exceptional spiritual potency, and towards which other younger and less experienced communities will tend for some time to gravitate.

A responsibility, at once weighty and inescapable, must rest on the communities which occupy so privileged a position in so vast and turbulent an area of the globe. However great the distance that separates them; however much they differ in race, language, custom, and religion; however active the political forces which tend to keep them apart and foster racial and political antagonisms, the close and continued association of these communities in their common, their peculiar and paramount task of raising up and of consolidating the embryonic World Order of Bahá'u'lláh in those regions of the globe, is a matter of vital and urgent importance, which should receive on the part of the elected representatives of their communities, a most earnest and prayerful consideration.

The Plan, which it is the privilege of the Australian Bahá'í community to energetically prosecute must, simultaneously, be assured of the unqualified, the systematic and whole-hearted support of its members.

Theirs indeed is a twofold task which must under no circumstances be either neglected or underrated. The one aims at the consolidation, the multiplication and expansion of the institutions so laboriously erected throughout the length and breadth of the Australian commonwealth and in the islands beyond its confines, in strict accordance with the provisions of the Ten-Year Plan, while the other is designed to forge fresh links with its sister communities, and particularly those situated in the North, in anticipation of the Mission which the newly fledged Bahá'í communities, now rapidly multiplying throughout the length and breadth of that area, are destined and are collectively called upon to discharge.

Whilst addressing itself to the meritorious twofold task with which it is now confronted, this wide-awake, swiftly expanding, steadily consolidating, highly promising community must lend whatever assistance is possible to its newly emerged sister community in the South, and enable her, as her institutions develop and become firmly grounded, to share in a befitting manner, in the collective enterprises that must, sooner or later, be launched and carried to a successful conclusion by the island communities situated in the Northern and Southern regions as well as in the heart of the Pacific Ocean.

May this community which, with its sister community in the North, has had the inestimable privilege of being called into being in the lifetime of, and through the operation of the dynamic forces released by the Centre of Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant, continue, with undimmed vision, with redoubled vigour, and unwavering fidelity and constancy, to discharge its manifold and ever increasing duties and responsibilities, and lend, as the days go by, an impetus such as it has not lent before, in the course of almost two score years of its existence, to the propagation of the Faith it has so whole-heartedly espoused and is now so valiantly serving, and play a memorable and distinctive part in hastening the establishment, and in ensuring the gradual efflorescence and ultimate fruition, of its divinely appointed embryonic World Order.

Shoghi.

Appendix II: Asia-Pacific Chronology

1914 Agnes Alexander arrives in Japan

1920 Clara and Hyde Dunn arrive in Australia

1921 Agnes Alexander arrives in Korea

1934 Formation of NSA of the Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand

1947-1953 Australia and New Zealand undertake Six Year Plan

1953-1963 Ten Year Crusade

1953-54 Opening of Pacific Island ‘virgin territories'

1954 Appointment of first Auxiliary Board Members

1957 Formation of NSA of New Zealand and Regional SAs of North East Asia and South East Asia

1958 Intercontinental Conferences held in Sydney and Singapore

1959 Formation of NSA of Burma

1961 Dedication of Sydney, Australia, Mashriqu'l-Adkhar in September

1964 Formation of NSAs in Korea, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Southwest Pacific (Solomon Islands) and Hawaii

1966 Formation of NSA of Brunei

1964-1973 Nine Year Plan. Commencement of First Stage of second Epoch in the Evolution of Bahá'ís Divine Plan

1967 Formation of NSAs in Taiwan, Gilbert and Ellice Islands and Laos

1968 Head of State of Western Samoa Malieatoa Tanumafilii II accepts Bahá'u'lláh (this announced publicly in 1973)

1968 Eleven Continental Boards of Counsellors established, including Boards for Australiasia (3), Northeast Asia (2) and Southeast Asia (3).

1969 Formation of NSA in Papua New Guinea

1970 Formation of NSA of Tonga and the Cook Islands

1971 Oceanic conferences held in (Jakarta moved to Singapore) in January; in Suva, Fiji, in May; and in Sapporo, Japan in September.

1972 Formation of NSA in Singapore and the Regional Spiritual Assembly of the North West Pacific Ocean (based in Pohnpei - U.S. Trust Territory,. Caroline Islands, Marshall Islands and Mariana Islands)

1974-79 Five Year Plan

1974 Formation of NSA of Hong Kong

1976-77 International Conferences held to mark mid-point of Five Year Plan (Hong Kong in November 1976, Auckland in January 1977).

1977 Formation of NSA of the New Hebridese (Vanuatu)

1978 Formation of NSA of the Mariana Islands. NSA of the North West Pacific becomes NSA of the Caroline Islands.

1979 Formation of NSA of Marshall Islands

1979-1986 Seven Year Plan

1980 Number of Continental Boards of Counsellors reduced to 5, including (16) and Australasia (7)

1981 Formation of NSA of Tuvalu

1982 International Conference held in Canberra, Australia (moved from Manila)

1984 Dedication of Apia, Western Samoa, Mashriqu'l-Adkhar in August

1985 Formation of NSAs of Cook Islands and Western Carroline Islands (Yap & Belau). NSA of the Caroline Islands becomes NSA of the Eastern Caroline Islands (Truk, Pohnpei, Kosrae)

1986-1992 Six Year Plan Commencement of Fourth Epoch of the Formative Age.

Bahá'í community is 1% or more in 34 countries and territories (Kiribati 17.9%)

1988 (December) Sean Hinton named Knight of Bahá'u'lláh for Mongolia

1990 (March) Abbas and Rezvanieh Katirai named Knights of Bahá'u'lláh for Sakhalin Islands

1992-93 Holy Year. "Ocean of Light" campaign commences

1992-1995 Three Year Plan

1994 Reformation of NSA of Cambodia, formation NSA of Mongolia

1996-2000 Four Year Plan

Bibliography

'Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1959, 1971 reprint.

Hassall, Graham (ed), Messages to the Antipodes: Communications from Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá'í Communities of Australasia, Mona Vale: Bahá'í Publications Australia, 1997.

Sims, Barbara (comp.), Japan Will Turn Ablaze: Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Letters of Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, and Historical Notes about Japan, Tokyo: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. 1992 revised edition.

" Barbara, Traces that Remain: A Pictorial history of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Faith Among the Japanese, Tokyo: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. 1989.

Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. 1971.

" Bahá'í Administration. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1953, 6th edition.

" Citadel of Faith: Messages to America 1947-1957. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1965, 1980 printing.

" Messages to the Bahá'í World: 1950-1957. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. 1971.

" The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1955, reprint 1969.

Star of the West: The Bahá'í Magazine. Oxford. George Ronald Publisher. 1978.

The Process of Entry by Troops: A Statement and Compilation Prepared by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice. Bahá'í Publications, Australia. 1994.

Bahá'í News Magazine; Distributed by United States National Spiritual Assembly, May 1983.

Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 153 Message to Peoples of the Spiritual Axis.

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