Friends, the subject for discussion this session is "The Forces of Our Time." There are, of course, many forces at play in the age in which we live. They can, I think, be categorized in two departments, two clear, distinct areas: the forces of light and the forces of darkness. The subject of the forces of light and darkness, their action and interaction, and the characterization of light in the Bahá'í teachings, is extensive. It is found, as you are aware, throughout the Bahá'í writings. I have collected some of these quotations and have looked at them and thought about them. Some of the ideas that are here were stimulating to me, and perhaps they might be helpful to others as well.
First, let us consider the concept of divine Spirit itself. We know we have a spiritual world and we have a material world. In the descriptions that we have of the Bahá'í ringstone we find references to the world of God, the world of command, and the world of creation. It is important to remember that the world of creation includes all the created spiritual worlds and realms, as well as the material one. They are part of creation, they are not above creation, so to speak. Now it is the interplay of these forces, of the higher spiritual world with this world, which gives birth to the development and progress of everything in this plane of existence.
You will recall that when 'Abdu'l-Bahá defines what divine Spirit is in Some Answered Questions and in some of His Tablets, He says that this is the force of life; a universal power which can be divided into various levels. But it is one power: it is the power of God; it is the Spirit of God. It manifests itself at the mineral level of existence as the power of cohesion. It manifests itself one degree higher as the power of the vegetable kingdom through growth, through the initial stages of reproduction, and in the animal level through the powers of the five senses. And then, He says, its expression in the human kingdom — that which characterizes and distinguishes the human kingdom — is the rational faculty in man. It is this reasoning power, this power of penetration that man has, which is the expression of the spirit that defines the human level. Then he defines the spirit of faith, as you will recall, and the Holy Spirit, and He describes these all as the effects or aspects of one spirit.
This spirit manifests itself in the realm of matter or in the receptive realm of the physical world as capacity is developed. Through the same interaction of the Spirit capacities are developed gradually and then new powers appear in the physical realm. Well, gradually new systems of worlds are built up. The whole cosmos, everything is related to this. It all operates according to laws. There is no chance in the system. There are ways in which we operate and exercise free will, but the development from the seed to the full-blown cosmos is a plan that is completely seen in the eye of God. 'Abdu'l-Bahá says, Behold ye creation, it's perfect. There's nothing new to be added to it, it's all there, the physical creation, the outer, material creation, is complete. He says, can you imagine a way to improve on the physical creation? You can imagine some ways to correct some of the mistakes that man has introduced in the system, but as far as God's role in it, it is manifest perfection. So when we talk about evolving, we're talking about the appearance of that which is already written in the spiritual realm, in the outer manifest world of existence.
Now, 'Abdu'l-Bahá says in one of His Tablets that the kingdom of peace and reconciliation, of fellowship — what we want to build in the world, what we want to become an outer reality — already exists in the spiritual realm. That it will appear by degrees in the world. And then He connects this with the action of the believers. As we conform ourselves, as we begin to create in ourselves capacities to receive the spiritual bounties and blessings inherent in love of each other, in unified action, in spiritual fellowship, our own inner beings will become dynamic with this spiritual power and more of it will appear. And that will allow the expression of this spirit in collective entities such as Local Spiritual Assemblies, such as the various institutions we have — National Spiritual Assemblies, committees — all of these various collective activities that are based on consultation. It will allow for a more perfect manifestation of the energies of the revelation through those processes. It's like the organisms in the body. Any one of the organs depends on the unity of cells of that organism. As soon as a few cells associate and are gathered into a new pattern, then they are allowed to specialize in their functions. And we see that kind of specialization, we see that kind of particular interest in the different Bahá'ís in the community, each one contributing his part, perhaps child education, perhaps research of the Writings, perhaps public speaking, perhaps quiet loving support — that place that you can always take a friend of the Faith to, because there is some Bahá'í who doesn't have much to say but is such a fountain of love that it's the perfect spot to bring someone to confirm him and attract him to the Teachings. All of these forces are there and gradually manifest themselves.
The secret that we find in the writings of the Guardian is that as each of these stages is accomplished, as we grow in maturity, as we reach a new stage, there is a corresponding outpouring of a new energy which is an expression of this same spirit. And this moves progressively.
In two of His talks in America, 'Abdu'l-Bahá stated that the gifts of the spirit are circling the world of humanity in the same way that the powers of the human spirit circle the embryo in its development in the womb. As the embryo develops those capacities for the appearance of these divine bounties and gifts, for its sight, for its hearing, then they begin appearing in it, and this process goes on as the child grows until his reasoning faculties appear and gradually ripen.
In the same way the world of humanity is being born again. The seed of a divine revelation is the inception of its maturity — that stage in its social evolution which marks its unification. Spiritual powers have been released which will carry us forward to that stage. And they are circling around us, awaiting our gradual development of the capacities for them to appear. These capacities are making themselves manifest in the Bahá'í community by stages, by degrees.
Shoghi Effendi, in referring to these powers, has characterized them in different ways in his writings sometimes as force, sometimes as potency, sometimes as energy, sometimes as spirit. If you collect these quotations and juxtapose them to each other, you will see that the definitions overlap. It is like in the human reality. Bahá'u'lláh resolves a lot of differences in one verse in one of His Tablets, the Lawh-i-Rais [Súriy-i-Ra'ís, paragraph 35; Ed.] — He says that mind, soul, spirit, heart, hearing, and seeing are all expressions of one reality. They are all one thing; but they are characterized in this manner by the function that they perform. One reality performing different functions. When it thinks, it is called mind; when it sees, it is called sight — but each is that inner reality of man. Now in the same way you can carry these divine truths into higher stages. You can see how this same pattern is imaged in the realm of the Manifestation of God, where, though He is one reality, sometimes He is characterized as the power of love, sometimes as force, sometimes as will, sometimes as divine energy. All these things are connected together. I think this helps us when we are reading the Writings, reading the prayers, to realize that there is a unity in all of this.
The interaction of spirit and matter is a very important subject. 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Paris stated on one occasion that "the forces of the higher world interplay with the forces of this world" (Paris Talks, p. 179). In another important statement from Shoghi Effendi, we find him elaborating a parallel between the human body and the Bahá'í world community. Just as the human body needs the spirit, the human spirit, to sustain it, to carry out all its autonomic functions, so likewise, the Divine Spirit, the Spirit Bahá'u'lláh has breathed into the world, is the animating principle of the body of the Bahá'í world community. He states,
"In the body of man, which is the true divine example or parallel, the spirit, when in ideal control of all the lesser parts of the organism, finds the utmost harmony throughout the whole body — each part is in perfect reciprocity with the other parts. The commands and impulses of the spirit are obeyed by the body and the body in turn, in its actions and functions identifies and determines the expression the spiritual impulses shall take. This is divine unity —— and this law being universal and found in every created object in the universe, has full application to the universal Bahá'í organism made up of believers everywhere, which has been established by the Manifestation of God."In this same passage, he talks to us about the administrative order. He says,
"Should we build up the Administrative World Order to a point of absolute perfection but at the same time allow it to be hampered or disconnected from the channels within, through which channels the Holy Spirit of the Cause pours forth, we would have nothing more than a perfected body out of touch with and cut off from the finer promptings of the soul or spirit. If, on the other hand, the influxes and goings forth of the spirit are scattered, diffused and subjected wholly to the more or less imperfect guidance and interpretation of individual believers, lacking both the wisdom secured through consultation and also the lights of real unity which shine through consultative action and obedience thereto — a disordered and disorganized activity would be witnessed, which would but dimly reflect the divine purpose for this age, which is no less than the establishment of the reign of Divine love, justice and wisdom in the world, under and in conformity to the Law."These are, as you can well understand, very heavy statements. There are many truths here that allow us to gain an overview of what the function of the coming of the Spirit in the world means and how the reaction both individually and collectively should take place.
When we were considering the questions of the importance of social and economic development, we came across a letter of Shoghi Effendi written through his secretary, which says some very interesting things about the subject we are discussing here, about the interaction of spirit and matter. Shoghi Effendi has also explained that we cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us. We cannot say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. He emphasizes that man is organic in the world and that his inner life moulds the environment and is itself deeply affected by the environment. In other words, each one acts upon the other. The changes that take pice in the life of man are results of these mutual reactions.
Our social environment, our society, is deeply affected by our own inner state. Now this is clear to us by the state of the world at the present time — the contrast between the integrating force and the kinds of confirmation and joy experienced in the Bahá'í community, and the hopelessness, the dissipation, the lack of purpose that we see in the outside society around us. This is increasingly reflected even in the physical environment, which is becoming ever more polluted because of the excesses of the human spirit. This is because the mind of man has gone in certain directions, selfishly, stubbornly, and this has its repercussions on the environment.
'Abdu'l-Bahá tells us in one of the Tablets in Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (pp. 152-153) that one of the prolific sources of diseases in the world is from immoral excesses. That when men and women go against the laws of God, gradually nature has a reaction. That reaction appears in the form of new diseases which appear, and then, He says, multiply, become compounded and contagious. And we in our way search for their origins in the monkeys of Africa, not realizing that we may have generated them ourselves by our own behavior. All these things are interconnected.
Now if you start thinking about all of this you realize how important our own condition is. We should be correctly oriented to the spiritual teachings of the Faith. We should be drawing on the power of Bahá'u'lláh. We should be dynamic and pulsing with it in the midst of society, so that we can attract receptive elements to us, so that the change will take place more quickly, and we can reverse this process of disintegration in the outer society, in the outer world.
In Shoghi Effendi's letters, he says that we should identify the forces of darkness and work to counter them. If we go back to the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, we find that He says the human spirit, when it is disobedient to the law of God, is a prolific source of satanic strength or satanic power. And this is the source of evil in the world, this disobedience of man to the law of God. This gives birth to all these destructive, dark forces. It is the absence of the confirmation of God in human affairs.
And if you look through the Writings you will find that Shoghi Effendi specifically identifies many of these forces, and he characterizes them, just to name a few, as irreligion, materialism, nationalism, racism, communism, atheism, unbelief, secularism, paganism, fanaticism, superstition, priestcraft, prejudice, corruption, immorality, violence, disorder, and revolt. There are quotations in which he calls these forces' 'the forces of revolt," "the dark forces of schism, and separation and disunity^' He mentions them as forces which are active in the world that we should combat. And he goes on in these passages to say that we should combat these first in our own inner life and character. Once we have purged our own lives of the influences of these forces, we should go on and combat them in the lives of others, help others to escape from their dark influence. (You can see why the Star Wars film theme was popular among people, because it comes very close to the edge of reality. There is the force of light which can save us from the practices of Darth Vader and his crowd.)
Then Shoghi Effendi makes some interesting statements in relation to this. He calls on us to ' 'launch an offensive against the powers of darkness, corruption and ignorance" (Advent of Divine Justice, p. 59). He says in a letter that evil forces do take control of our life. This is very significant. "Evil forces do take control of our life, but it is within our power to free ourselves from falling under their influence." Now you think of those forces that were identified here, they can come and influence us, paralyze us, make us apathetic, dim our faith, weaken our love of God, vitiate the reality of our existence. But we have the capacity to overcome this through the blessings that are at hand, through the powers of the forces of light.
In Unfolding Destiny ( p. 442), we find another passage from a letter written on behalf of the Guardian in relation to this. And I think it is very significant for us to consider. He states that "the world is full of evil and dark forces and the friends must not permit these forces to get hold of them by thinking and feeling negatively towards each other." Now we think to ourselves, "Well, I mean, I say my prayers, and I go to the Feasts, and I give to the Fund, and I do all these things, and I put up with all my fellow Bahá'ís, what more do I need? The dark forces will never reach me!" He's not saying here by speaking and acting negatively towards each other, he's saying by thinking and feeling negatively towards each other you will open yourself to these dark forces getting hold of you. Very interesting. Because they act against the principles of love and fellowship in the Cause which are the life blood of the Faith. They are more important than any of our negative qualities or any short comings we may have. We don't want to dwell on those at all in each other. We want to constantly reinforce each other. This is where we are called upon to protect the Faith. Protection does not just mean to go out looking for external enemies. It means to protect us from that kind of negativity, the negative thinking and feeling about each other between the friends in the community, so that we will remain attracted to each other, and receptive to the influxes of this divine spirit. Then we will move to the forefront of the purpose of God, fulfill our destiny, and fulfill our plans.
To Australia Shoghi Effendi wrote, "when the Bahá'ís permit the dark forces of the world to enter their own relationships within the Faith, they gravely jeopardize its progress". He promises that we will overcome these forces. They are not greater than we are; they are not greater than the powers of the Faith, but we have to be vigilant. The clash of all this is coming to a consummate end, a contest, between the forces of light and darkness. And of course, then, this refers to all those institutions and organisms and individuals who express these dark forces that we mentioned earlier, that act with us in a violent way, in a disruptive way. These contests, destined to range the army of the forces of light against the forces of darkness, both secular and religious, have been predicted in unequivocal language by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. But at the same time He has promised victory for the Cause of God in the end. This is an exercise which we go through, and in the process we purge ourselves. So we see this drama taking place, unfolding in our lives: the forces of our age.