World Order of Baha'u'llah:
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As you all know, the Formative Age of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh began in November 1921, with the passing of the beloved Master and the reading of His Will and Testament. For seventy-seven years, that is from 1844 to 1921, the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, was not only established in the land of its birth but succeeded in expanding its operation and extending the scope of its activities to thirty-five countries of the world.
Such a remarkable feat was realized, notwithstanding the lack of an organized and systematic system to coordinate and stimulate the activities of the friends. Despite the persecution, deportation and martyrdom of the Báb, followed by the imprisonment, repeated exiles and close surveillance of the personal lives of the Author of our Faith and the Centre of His Covenant, it was thanks to the super-human knowledge and administrative genius of the Heads of our Faith, that the Cause of God survived these waves of repression.
Through detailed instructions given by the Heads of our Faith to Letters of the Living, Apostles of Bahá'u'lláh, Disciples of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Hands of the Cause and other eminent teachers and promoters of the Faith, the Bahá'í Community was not only protected from schism, but its ramifications continued to expand and develop. Shoghi Effendi has summarised for us in two of his letters, what he describes as: "the faint glimmerings"- (WOB p.147), and "the preliminary steps"- (GPB p.329), during the Heroic Age of our Faith in anticipation of the future Administrative Order.
These are his exact words: "In the Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh where the institutions of the International and Local Houses of Justice are specifically designated and formally established; in the institution of the Hands of the Cause of God which first Bahá'u'lláh and then 'Abdu'l-Bahá brought into being; in the institution of both local and national Assemblies which in their embryonic stage were already functioning in the days preceding 'Abdu'l-Bahá'ís ascension; in the authority with which the Author of our Faith and the Center of His Covenant have in their Tablets chosen to confer upon them; in the institution of the Local Fund which operated according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá'ís specific injunctions addressed to certain Assemblies in Persia; in the verses of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas the implications of which clearly anticipate the institution of the Guardianship; in the explanation which 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in one of His Tablets, has given to, and the emphasis He has placed upon, the hereditary principle and the law of primogeniture as having been upheld by the Prophets of the past -- in these we can discern the faint glimmerings and discover the earliest intimation of the nature and working of the Administrative Order which the Will of 'Abdu'l-Bahá was at a later time destined to proclaim and formally establish"- (WOB p.147).
The second passage is as follows: "It should be borne in mind... that the preliminary steps aiming at the disclosure of the scope and working of this Administrative Order, which was now to be formally established after 'Abdu'l-Bahá'ís passing, had already been taken by Him, and even by Bahá'u'lláh in the years preceding His ascension. The appointment by Him of certain outstanding believers in Persia as "Hands of the Cause"; the initiation of local Assemblies and boards of consultation by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in leading Bahá'í centres in both the East and the West; the formation of the Bahá'í Temple Unity in the United States of America; the establishment of local funds for the promotion of Bahá'í activities; the purchase of property dedicated to the Faith and its future institutions; the founding of publishing societies for the dissemination of Bahá'í literature; the erection of the first Mashriqu'l-Adhkár of the Bahá'í world; the construction of the Báb's mausoleum on Mt. Carmel; the institution of hostels for the accommodation of itinerant teachers and pilgrims -- these may be regarded as the precursors of the institutions which, immediately after the closing of the Heroic Age of the Faith, were to be permanently and systematically established throughout the Bahá'í world"- (GPB pp.329-30).
As you note the second extract has a few repetitious items, but it also has many additional elements. To illustrate the rudimentary manner in which these boards of consultation, operated when they were first formed during the ministry of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, I will give you one instance.
The Local Spiritual Assembly of Tihrán which was formed in 1897 was the first in the whole country. As the members did not have any by-laws, they decided to have a seal which was divided into nine slices. When the Assembly met, and after a decision was taken, the Secretary had to draft the letter at the meeting and read it to the members. Each member kept one slice of the seal with him, and when the letter was approved he would part with his slice so that the nine slices could be combined in a special frame to make it possible for the seal to be affixed on the approved letter. At the end of the meeting, obviously, each member went home with his own slice in his pocket.
Likewise, in the United States the first Local Assembly of the Country was established in Chicago and as it assumed the title of the Chicago House of Justice it was so addressed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself (WOB p.6). However, later He advised that the temporary appellation of local spiritual assembly was more appropriate.
Under the guidance of the Guardian, the phoenix of the system of Bahá'í Administration rose from the ashes of these precursors and forerunners of the institutions of our Faith. Even after the dissemination of the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, it took Shoghi Effendi many months, and in some cases several years, to fully explain to the friends in the countries of East and West, where a sufficient number of Bahá'ís resided, the essential requirements to form, on a sound constitutional basis, their Local Spiritual Assemblies, to direct them how to elect subsequently their delegates, on a proportionate basis, in order to hold their National Conventions, and to guide them finally in forming their National Spiritual Assemblies, which were to serve as pillars supporting the dome, which was the long anticipated Universal House of Justice.
As I have already indicated, Shoghi Effendi referred in his writings to the administrative structure, which he was guiding the Bahá'ís to erect, as the "Bahá'í Administration". He used an equivalent term in his Persian letters to the friends in the East. It was only after thirteen years that he used the rightful title, namely the Bahá'í Administrative Order, for the Administrative System that had just begun to operate, in accordance with the guidelines he had provided.
In the early years of Shoghi Effendi's Guardianship the administrative structure being erected and becoming visible was clearly modest in character and scope, and, therefore, the simple descriptive title "Bahá'í Administration" suited it very well. However, beyond this, it should be borne in mind that Shoghi Effendi was essentially a modest person. For example, when translating the Text of the Will and testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá immediately after His passing, he used the lower case for both "guardian" and "branch" when these referred to him. However, thirteen years later, when he was quoting from 'Abdu'l-Bahá Will in the "Dispensation", he capitalized both "Guardian" and "Branch". He could well have sensed that his station as Guardian would have been by then more readily understood and accepted.
We are all familiar with the celebrated passage in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas which formally announces the emergence of Bahá'u'lláh's New World Order. In view of the importance of this verse, I would like to quote it again: "The world's equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind's ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous system—the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed"- (KA p.85).
Until that day in 1934 when Shoghi Effendi produced his translation of this key verse in Bahá'u'lláh's Mother Book, the generality of the Bahá'ís understood the purpose to mean that the order of the verses of the Aqdas followed a unique arrangement, different from that of the Bayán or other Holy Books of former Dispensations. There is also in the Bayán a verse which refers to the Order of Bahá'u'lláh. This corresponding verse was also understood along the same lines, in other words, unlike the Bayán, the Aqdas would have a unique format of its own.
When I was on pilgrimage in 1957, on one occasion, Shoghi Effendi quoted this verse of the Aqdas. As there was a pause after his recital of the verse, I took the liberty of mentioning to him how scholars of the Faith in Iran had totally misunderstood the meaning of this verse and in the classes that I had attended, this misconception was taught to the students. And I added: "Where would the Bahá'í world be without the beloved Guardian?" At this remark, Shoghi Effendi smiled and he said: "Nicolas understood, but the friends did not". As you all know, Mr Nicolas was a French Orientalist, and although he was not a Bábí, nor a Bahá'í, he was an admirer of the Báb and translated both the Persian and Arabic Bayáns into French.
When one reads the letters of the Guardian in both English and Persian during his ministry, it is not difficult to see that he had two main objectives in mind. As to the first objective it was clear to him that the Universal House of Justice, which was the last unit of the edifice of the Administrative Order, was like the dome, the crown, and the apex of the structure, and he clearly stated this in his writings. This dome could not hang in the air without the support of columns. These columns were none other than the National Spiritual Assemblies. Even nine of them would be adequate, but indeed the more of them, the better. These National Assemblies however, had to rest on the firm foundation of Local Spiritual Assemblies, which had to be formed on a sound and solid basis. As early as March 1923, he wrote the following: "With these Assemblies, local as well as national, harmoniously, vigorously, and efficiently functioning throughout the Bahá'í world, the only means for the establishment of the Supreme House of Justice will have been secured"- (BA p.40).
The second objective which he focused upon was to use these administrative institutions to promote the teaching work unitedly and systematically. There was no charter for this world-wide activity more appropriate than the Master's Tablets of the Divine Plan. He therefore wanted to see each National Assembly, not only engaged in carrying out the objectives of a teaching and consolidation plan within the confines under its jurisdiction, but his ultimate goal was to build bridges among these National Assemblies.
A slight diversion from the main theme of our discussion would be helpful. When the British Bahá'ís completed their Six Year Plan in 1951 Shoghi Effendi advised the British National Assembly that he would want it to launch immediately a Two Year Plan, primarily aimed at the settlement of pioneers and the promotion of the teaching work in both East and West Africa. He also called on the National Spiritual Assemblies of the United States, Persia, Egypt and India to collaborate with the British National Assembly in this project. In his messages inaugurating this two-year phase of inter-National Spiritual Assembly collaboration, he anticipated a subsequent stage of collaborative efforts among all National Spiritual Assemblies of the world. This was clearly an anticipation of the launching of his Ten Year Crusade. He went on to state that such undertakings would be a prelude to future teaching and pioneering enterprises, embarked upon and conducted by the Universal House of Justice.
In one of his early letters commenting on its election, the Universal House of Justice wrote on 9 March 1965, as follows: "The Guardian had given the Bahá'í world explicit and detailed plans covering the period until Ridván 1963, the end of the Ten Year Crusade. From that point onward, unless the Faith were to be endangered, further divine guidance was essential. This was the second pressing reason for the calling of the election of the Universal House of Justice. The rightness of the time was further confirmed by references in Shoghi Effendi's letters to the Ten Year Crusade's being followed by other plans under the direction of the Universal House of Justice. One such reference is the following passage from a letter addressed to the National Spiritual Assembly of the British Isles on 25 February 1951, concerning its Two Year Plan which immediately preceded the Ten Year Crusade: "On the success of this enterprise, unprecedented in its scope, unique in its character and immense in its spiritual potentialities, must depend the initiation, at a later period in the Formative Age of the Faith, of undertakings embracing within their range all National Assemblies functioning throughout the Bahá'í world -- undertakings constituting in themselves a prelude to the launching of world-wide enterprises destined to be embarked upon, in future epochs of that same Age, by the Universal House of Justice, that will symbolize the unity and co-ordinate and unify the activities of these National Assemblies".(MUHJ pp.51-52)
A similar message was sent by him to the National Assembly of the United States. I was in Tihrán at the time, and was on the National Assembly of Iran. I remember the consternation this message produced. It was not because the election of the Universal House of Justice was drawing so near, but that it was that Body which was essentially a Legislative Body— and not the Guardian who was always associated with Teaching Plans— to launch the future teaching work and direct it.
When the Hands of the Cause throughout the world, who had just been invested by him with the title of "Chief Stewards of Bahá'u'lláh's embryonic World Commonwealth" in October 1957, convened in the Holy Land in November of that year after his passing, they soon realized that there was no choice for the Bahá'í world but to move on and continue to operate under the guidance of the goals of the Ten Year Crusade, until 1963, when the Universal House of Justice would be formed. Shoghi Effendi wrote towards the end of his life, on more than one occasion, that on such a day the prophecy of Daniel about the 1335 days would be fulfilled, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá had predicted: 'on that day will the faithful rejoice with exceeding gladness'"- (MBW1950-57, p.44).
As I have already indicated in my talks, the long range objective of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh is the Most Great Peace which will give birth to a Bahá'í Civilization, the like of which mankind has never witnessed. The Administrative Order, preceded by the Bahá'í Administration, is but a preliminary stage in this process. This Administrative Order has been described by Shoghi Effendi as the embryonic stage which will lead to the emergence of the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. This in turn, will develop into the Bahá'í World Commonwealth which will produce the Most Great Peace and subsequently the World Bahá'í Civilization. To sum it up, the stages through which this process will develop are: the Bahá'í Administration; the Bahá'í Administrative Order; Bahá'u'lláh's New World Order, signalising the advent of the Golden Age of His Faith; the Bahá'í World Commonwealth; the Most Great Peace and finally the birth of the promised new Civilization.
On more than one occasion, Shoghi Effendi has explained that there is a difference between the Administrative Order and the World Order. The former, that is the Administrative Order, as I just stated is the embryonic stage of the latter, which is the New World Order yet to be born. The lack of pleasing proportions visible in the various parts of the body of an embryo, in the eyes of an ignorant viewer, would give the impression of ugliness, of incongruity, and of imperfection. However, in the eyes of a wise and intelligent observer, the lack of apparent coherence is only a necessary stage in the development, not of a seemingly monstrous creature, but of a highly sensitive, continuously evolving, and organically ripening embryo. When the decreed moment arrives, and it is duly born, it will be a delight to all eyes— a charming baby with its bewitching smile.
The reason why I am drawing this parallel is to show the difference between the two outlooks: one is, studied, well-informed, and wisely concluded; the other is unstudied, rash and impulsive. I am sorry to say that we hear many remarks of the second category from Bahá'ís around us, who are well meaning but unfortunately have failed to understand the processes which are at work. As they see in the operation of our embryonic institutions some awkwardness and clumsiness, they impatiently voice their criticism which, though it is not viciously intended, can quite often arouse discontent and even be destructive.
Because of the emphasis which 'Abdu'l-Bahá placed on the spiritual principles which should govern and distinguish our Bahá'í community life, many Bahá'ís in the West had the false conception that organization was foreign to the aims and purposes of the Bahá'í Religion.
Indeed towards the end of the life of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, a pilgrim's note attributed to Him was circulated among the friends in the United States to the effect that the Bahá'í Faith had no organization. When 'Abdu'l-Bahá was asked whether such a statement was true, He categorically denied it. Unfortunately, this pilgrim's note remained alive, and when Shoghi Effendi began calling on the friends to lay the foundations of their Local Assemblies and prepare for the establishment of their National Assemblies, he found that he had to once again explicitly state that the pilgrim note attributed to 'Abdu'l-Bahá was baseless.
In February 1929, he had to write the following addressed to the friends in the United States and Canada: "I am at a loss to explain that strange mentality that inclines to uphold as the sole criterion of the truth of the Bahá'í Teachings what is admittedly only an obscure and unauthenticated translation of an oral statement made by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in defiance and total disregard of the available text of all of His universally recognized writings. I truly deplore the unfortunate distortions that have resulted in days past from the incapacity of the interpreter to grasp the meaning of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and from his incompetence to render adequately such truths as have been revealed to him by the Master's statements. Much of the confusion that has obscured the understanding of the believers should be attributed to this double error involved in the inexact rendering of an only partially understood statement. Not infrequently has the interpreter even failed to convey the exact purport of the inquirer's specific questions, and, by his deficiency of understanding and expression in conveying the answer of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, has been responsible for reports wholly at variance with the true spirit and purpose of the Cause"- (WOB pp.4-5).
He wrote on the same date: "Who, I may ask, when viewing the international character of the Cause, its far-flung ramifications, the increasing complexity of its affairs, the diversity of its adherents, and the state of confusion that assails on every side the infant Faith of God, can for a moment question the necessity of some sort of administrative machinery that will insure, amid the storm and stress of a struggling civilization, the unity of the Faith, the preservation of its identity, and the protection of its interests? To repudiate the validity of the assemblies of the elected ministers of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh would be to reject those countless Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá wherein They have extolled the station of the "trustees of the Merciful," enumerated their privileges and duties, emphasized the glory of their mission, revealed the immensity of their task, and warned them of the attacks they must needs expect from the unwisdom of their friends as well as from the malice of their enemies"- (WOB pp.9-10).
Thanks to these explanations, the attacks levelled against the Guardian by such people as Ruth White and Ahmad Sohrab, were overcome. The clarity of Shoghi Effendi's elucidations and the steadfast and loyal adherence of the friends to the provisions of the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, put an end to this controversy.
So much for the form of the Administrative Order and its necessity and its indispensability. If the form however, is not quickened with the spirit, it remains a dead form. This is why Shoghi Effendi from the very outset of his clarifications of the principles underlying the Administration of the Faith, kept reminding the friends of the absolute necessity to develop and nurture the spirit which should always be at its very core and illumine the path which the institutions are called upon to follow.
From his pen flowed such exhortations as these... In March 1923 he wrote: "But let us be on our guard -- so the Master continually reminds us from His Station on high -- lest too much concern in that which is secondary in importance, and too long a preoccupation with the details of our affairs and activities, make us neglectful of the most essential, the most urgent of all our obligations, namely, to bury our cares and teach the Cause, delivering far and wide this Message of Salvation to a sorely-stricken world"- (BA p.42).
In February 1929 he wrote: "And now, it behoves us to reflect on the animating purpose and the primary functions of these divinely-established institutions, the sacred character and the universal efficacy of which can be demonstrated only by the spirit they diffuse and the work they actually achieve. I need not dwell upon what I have already reiterated and emphasized that the administration of the Cause is to be conceived as an instrument and not a substitute for the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, that it should be regarded as a channel through which His promised blessings may flow, that it should guard against such rigidity as would clog and fetter the liberating forces released by His Revelation... It is surely for those to whose hands so priceless a heritage has been committed to prayerfully watch lest the tool should supersede the Faith itself, lest undue concern for the minute details arising from the administration of the Cause obscure the vision of its promoters, lest partiality, ambition, and worldliness tend in the course of time to becloud the radiance, stain the purity, and impair the effectiveness of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh"- (WOB p.9). We should note the evils to avoid as servants of this Faith, namely partiality, ambition and worldliness.
In December 1935, writing to an individual believer, he wrote the following: "The Bahá'í Faith, like all other Divine religions, is thus fundamentally mystic in character. Its chief goal is the development of the individual and society, through the acquisition of spiritual virtues and powers. It is the soul of man that has first to be fed. And this spiritual nourishment prayer can best provide. Laws and institutions, as viewed by Bahá'u'lláh, can become really effective only when our inner spiritual life has been perfected and transformed. Otherwise religion will degenerate into a mere organization, and become a dead thing"- (CC vol. II, p.237). We should realize how through lack of effort on our part in transforming our inner spiritual lives, we could kill the spirit of the Faith, and cause the institutions of the Administrative Order to become a mere lifeless thing.
We should also remember that statements such as these, made by the beloved Guardian, are in full harmony with what Bahá'u'lláh had stated in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, namely that members of Houses of Justice, when meeting: "should consider themselves as entering the Court of the presence of God, the Exalted, the Most High, and as beholding Him Who is the Unseen". Bahá'u'lláh further calls on them to "regard themselves as the guardians appointed of God for all that dwell on earth" and "to have regard for the interests of the servants of God, for His sake, even as they regard their own interests, and to choose that which is meet and seemly. Thus hath the Lord your God commanded you. Beware lest ye put away that which is clearly revealed in His Tablet. Fear God, O ye that perceive"- (KA p.29).
In these immortal verses of the Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh is not only urging members of Spiritual Assemblies to be deeply spiritual, but also to be selfless, altruistic and universally minded.
Shoghi Effendi went on to explain: "Let us also bear in mind that the keynote of the Cause of God is not dictatorial authority but humble fellowship, not arbitrary power, but the spirit of frank and loving consultation" - (BA p.63). The spiritual obligations of the elected representatives of the Faith have been set forth by Shoghi Effendi in the following words: "Their function is not to dictate, but to consult, and consult not only among themselves, but as much as possible with the friends whom they represent. They must regard themselves in no other light but that of chosen instruments for a more efficient and dignified presentation of the Cause of God. They should never be led to suppose that they are the central ornaments of the body of the Cause, intrinsically superior to others in capacity or merit, and sole promoters of its teachings and principles. They should approach their task with extreme humility, and endeavour, by their open-mindedness, their high sense of justice and duty, their candour, their modesty, their entire devotion to the welfare and interests of the friends, the Cause, and humanity, to win, not only the confidence and the genuine support and respect of those whom they serve, but also their esteem and real affection. They must, at all times, avoid the spirit of exclusiveness, the atmosphere of secrecy, free themselves from a domineering attitude, and banish all forms of prejudice and passion from their deliberations. They should, within the limits of wise discretion, take the friends into their confidence, acquaint them with their plans, share with them their problems and anxieties, and seek their advice and counsel. And, when they are called upon to arrive at a certain decision, they should, after dispassionate, anxious and cordial consultation, turn to God in prayer, and with earnestness and conviction and courage record their vote and abide by the voice of the majority..."- (BA p.63).
As you see from the above, both spirit and form are important and the more important is the spirit of love, of humility and of dedication, which must inform the consultations and actions of all elected institutions of the Faith.
There is no doubt that this spirit should also be the motivating force inspiring those who are privileged to serve as appointed promoters and protectors of the Cause, such as Counsellors, Auxiliary Board Members and Assistants.
When Shoghi Effendi was asked to give the qualifications of a true believer, for the benefit of Spiritual Assemblies which are considering membership of applicants to the Bahá'í community, one of the essential qualifications he stipulated was "close association with the spirit as well as the form of the present day Bahá'í Administration"- (BA p.90). This is one of the vital administrative principles of our Faith. The individual is an organic part of his community. He cannot, and must not, dissociate himself from community activities. One of the distinctions of our Faith is the essential contribution of the individual to the life of the community, which in turn, as it develops, exerts its healthy influence on the individual and promotes his spiritual advancement. In the Aqdas Bahá'u'lláh tells us that individuals are like constituent elements and members of the human body. This means that the well-being of the part is the well-being of all. The injury of the part is the injury of all. Furthermore, the community can serve as a laboratory where the individual can translate the ideals and principles of the Faith which he has imbibed into concrete and constructive action. Participation in the work of the community thus becomes a learning process for better understanding of how the theory taught by the Faith can be realized in service in the field. All this means that as devoted Bahá'ís we should avoid two extremes: 1) Adherence to the laws and ordinances of the Faith as applicable to the individual, with the exception of association with the community and 2) Total involvement in community activities, with the exception of following the Bahá'í way of life, which is binding on the individual.
The final part of my presentation today is about the rulers and the learned— who they are, how they complement each other, and what are the spiritual ties that bind them together and to the rest of the community. In a letter dated 23rd April 1972, the Universal House of Justice, addressing this question wrote: "In the Kitáb-i-'Ahd (the Book of His Covenant) Bahá'u'lláh wrote "Blessed are the rulers and the learned among the people of Bahá," and referring to this very passage the beloved Guardian wrote on 4 November 1931: 'In this holy cycle the "learned" are, on the one hand, the Hands of the Cause of God, and, on the other, the teachers and diffusers of His teachings who do not rank as Hands, but who have attained an eminent position in the teaching work. As to the "rulers" they refer to the members of the Local, National and International Houses of Justice. The duties of each of these souls will be determined in the future."
The Universal House of Justice, after quoting the Guardian, has commented as follows:
"The Hands of the Cause of God, the Counsellors and the members of the Auxiliary Boards fall within the definition of the "learned" given by the beloved Guardian... When, following the passing of Shoghi Effendi, the Universal House of Justice decided that it could not legislate to make possible the appointment of further Hands of the Cause, it became necessary for it to create a new institution, appointed by itself, to extend into the future the functions of protection and propagation vested in the Hands of the Cause and, with that in view, so to develop the Institution of the Hands that it could nurture the new institution and function in close collaboration with it as long as possible. It was also vital so to arrange matters as to make the most effective use of the unique services of the Hands themselves... "
In the same letter the Universal House of Justice quotes from a letter of Shoghi Effendi. In this letter "written on 14 March 1927 to the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Istanbul, the Guardian's Secretary explained, on his behalf, the principle in the Cause of action by majority vote. He pointed out how, in the past, it was certain individuals who "accounted themselves as superior in knowledge and elevated in position" who caused division, and that it was those "who pretended to be the most distinguished of all" who "always proved themselves to be the source of contention." "But praise be to God," he continued, "that the Pen of Glory has done away with the unyielding and dictatorial views of the learned and the wise, dismissed the assertions of individuals as an authoritative criterion, even though they were recognized as the most accomplished and learned among men and ordained that all matters be referred to authorized centres and specified Assemblies. Even so, no Assembly has been invested with the absolute authority to deal with such general matters as affect the interests of nations. Nay rather, He has brought all the assemblies together under the shadow of one House of Justice, one divinely appointed Centre, so that there would be only one Centre and all the rest integrated into a single body, revolving around one expressly designated Pivot, thus making them all proof against schism and division."
After quoting this passage from Shoghi Effendi's letter, the Universal House of Justice draws the following conclusions:
"Having permanently excluded the evils admittedly inherent in the institutions of the "learned" in past dispensations, Bahá'u'lláh has nevertheless embodied in His Administrative Order the beneficent elements which exist in such institutions, elements which are of fundamental value for the progress of the Cause, as can be gauged from even a cursory reading of the Guardian's message of 4 June 1957. The existence of institutions of such exalted rank, comprising individuals who play such a vital role, who yet have no legislative, administrative or judicial authority, and are entirely devoid of priestly functions or the right to make authoritative interpretations, is a feature of Bahá'í administration unparalleled in the religions of the past. The newness and uniqueness, of this concept make it difficult to grasp; only as the Bahá'í Community grows and the believers are increasingly able to contemplate its administrative structure uninfluenced by concepts from past ages, will the vital interdependence of the "rulers" and "learned" in the Faith be properly understood, and the inestimable value of their interaction be fully recognized"- (UHJM1963-86, pp.216-7).
Some six years later, a question related to this theme was asked by one of the believers, and this needed further clarification of the issues involved. On the 27th March 1978, the Department of the Secretariat, writing on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, gave the following elucidation: "A Board of Counsellors has the particular responsibility of caring for the protection and propagation of the Faith throughout a continental zone which contains a number of national Bahá'í communities. In performing these tasks it neither directs nor instructs the Spiritual Assemblies or individual believers, but it has the necessary rank to enable it to ensure that it is kept properly informed and that the Spiritual Assemblies give due consideration to its advice and recommendations. However, the essence of the relationships between Bahá'í institutions is loving consultation and a common desire to serve the Cause of God rather than a matter of rank or station. It is clear from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, as well as from those of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and the interpretations of the Guardian, that the proper functioning of human society requires the preservation of ranks and classes within its membership. The friends should recognize this without envy or jealousy, and those who occupy ranks should never exploit their position or regard themselves as being superior to others."
"About this Bahá'u'lláh has written: 'And amongst the realms of unity is the unity of rank and station. It redoundeth to the exaltation of the Cause, glorifying it among all peoples. Ever since the seeking of preference and distinction came into play, the world hath been laid waste. It hath become desolate. Those who have quaffed from the ocean of divine utterance and fixed their gaze upon the Realm of Glory should regard themselves as being on the same level as the others and in the same station. Were this matter to be definitely established and conclusively demonstrated through the power and might of God, the world would become as the Abhá Paradise. Indeed, man is noble, inasmuch as each one is a repository of the sign of God. Nevertheless, to regard oneself as superior in knowledge, learning or virtue, or to exalt oneself or seek preference, is a grievous transgression. Great is the blessedness of those who are adorned with the ornament of this unity and have been graciously confirmed by God'..."- this is the end of the quotation from Bahá'u'lláh.
The letter of the House of Justice goes on to say: "Courtesy, reverence, dignity, respect for the rank and achievements of others are virtues which contribute to the harmony and well-being of every community, but pride and self-aggrandizement are among the most deadly of sins."
"The House of Justice hopes that all the friends will remember that the ultimate aim in life of every soul should be to attain spiritual excellence -- to win the good pleasure of God. The true spiritual station of any soul is known only to God. It is quite a different thing from the ranks and stations that men and women occupy in the various sectors of society. Whoever has his eyes fixed on the goal of attaining the good pleasure of God will accept with joy and radiant acquiescence whatever work or station is assigned to him in the Cause of God, and will rejoice to serve Him under all conditions"- (UHJM1963-86, p.376).
The House of Justice is giving us in this letter a clarification which is unique in organizational philosophy. The first thing is the House's acceptance of the policy generally practiced in any form of secular or religious administration, namely that without positions and ranks no organization can efficiently function. After this assertion, and based on a remarkable text from Bahá'u'lláh Himself, the House of Justice exhorts the Bahá'í rulers and the Bahá'í learned by saying in effect the following: "Be not concerned that your positions will not be preserved or respected by those who are beneath you in rank or achievement, but let not this outward consideration give you pride and let it not deceive you in thinking that you are morally and essentially better than them. True ranks are solely known to God and will be revealed to men's eyes only in the next world. Therefore do not act arrogantly towards others and do not exalt yourself over them by virtue of a temporary privilege given to you in this world" (these are of course only my own words summing up the House exhortation). In one of His Tablets Bahá'u'lláh says the more we fear God in our lives with genuine humility, the nearer will we be to God in this world and the next.
No organizational system I know of, whether religious or secular, has such a fundamentally moral and spiritual concept incorporated in its structure. It is this attitude which gives spirit to our community and administrative activities. It is indeed one of the distinctive features of the Bahá'í Administrative Order, which is not an earthly man-made organization, but is essentially a divinely-conceived and providentially sustained system, which is destined to embrace, unify and uplift humanity.
Q. A non-Bahá'í friend of mine said he thought it was not fair that only "famous" Bahá'ís would be elected and that their visibility in the community was perhaps a hidden form of campaigning. What do you think?
A. The use of the word "famous" in this context is both inaccurate and inappropriate. In one of His Tablets 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to the elected members as souls of good repute whose fair name has spread like the fragrance of musk among the people. Some Bahá'ís may be famous, but not have a good reputation. In Bahá'í elections you should look for the qualities that members of the community are known to possess. These qualities, as you know, are, "unquestioned loyalty, selfless devotion, a well-trained mind, recognized ability and mature experience". (BA p. 88) We should also remember that, as electors, we should engage in the act of election in a prayerful attitude and supplicate the Blessed Beauty to grant us His guidance.
Q. Shoghi Effendi writes about "Divine Economy". Could you explain what it means?
A. If you look up the word "economy" in reliable dictionaries you will see that one of its meanings is a system of organization. I think in the reference you have mentioned we should understand Shoghi Effendi's use of this term to apply to the Administrative Order.
Q. One of the prime requisites of the Assembly members according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá is "purity of motive", and He mentions this quality before all other virtues. What is your understanding of "purity of motive"?
A. In the Persian Hidden Words Bahá'u'lláh refers to "pure and goodly deeds" and adds that ... "erelong the assayers of mankind shall, in the Holy Presence of the Adored One, accept naught but absolute virtue and deeds of stainless purity". (PHW no. 69) My understanding of purity of motive is when deeds of service are performed, either in the work of the administration or in the teaching field, solely for the sake of winning the good pleasure of the Blessed Beauty. I think purity of motive requires us to set aside all other considerations, whether they are earthly things outside the pale of the Faith or spiritual rewards within the Cause -- sometimes referred to as "within the precincts" of God's Holy Faith. On the latter point I think this is what is meant by the following sentence in the Tablet of Visitation of 'Abdu'l-Bahá: "Help me to be selfless at the heavenly entrance of Thy gate, and aid me to be detached from all things within Thy holy precincts". If we want to have pure motives we should be satisfied in our confidence that He sees us and that He knows us. Our one and only motivation in Bahá'í activities and in obedience to His commands should be that our humble offering of unworthy services and deeds may be acceptable in His sight.
Q. Where in the text of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas does Bahá'u'lláh anticipate the institution of the Guardianship?
A. Shoghi Effendi wrote in February 1929: "By leaving certain matters unspecified and unregulated in His Book of Laws, Bahá'u'lláh seems to have deliberately left a gap in the general scheme of Bahá'í Dispensation, which the unequivocal provisions of the Master's Will has filled." (WOB p.4) One of the "unspecified" matters was the question as to who will be the recipient of Huqœqu'lláh after Bahá'u'lláh. The obvious conclusion was, of course, drawn, that whoever or whatever institution was the Successor of Bahá'u'lláh and occupied the position of Headship of the Faith would be the recipient. Thus, Huqœq was paid to 'Abdu'l-Bahá and in accordance with His Will, the payment had to be made to the Guardian. This is one way the institution of the Guardianship was anticipated, and I have mentioned this point already. Another place in the Aqdas which could well be another intimation of the Guardianship, is in the verse where Bahá'u'lláh says that "whatsoever ye understand not in the Book" should be referred to the Branch grown out "from this mighty Stock" (KA para174). It is in this verse that the function of authorized interpretation has been given to the Branch, and it seems to be that this is the second verse where the position of the Guardian, as authorized interpreter, has been anticipated.
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