Let Your Vision Be World-Embracing

Let Your Vision Be World-Embracing

O friends! It behooveth you to refresh and revive your souls through the gracious favors which in this Divine, this soul-stirring Springtime are being showered upon you. The Daystar of His great glory hath shed its radiance upon you, and the clouds of His limitless grace have overshadowed you. How high the reward of him that hath not deprived himself of so great a bounty, nor failed to recognize the beauty of his Best-Beloved in this, His new attire. Watch over yourselves, for the Evil One is lying in wait, ready to entrap you. Gird yourselves against his wicked devices, and, led by the light of the name of the All-Seeing God, make your escape from the darkness that surroundeth you. Let your vision be world-embracing, rather than confined to your own self. The Evil One is he that hindereth the rise and obstructeth the spiritual progress of the children of men. 1

Out of Darkness Comes the Realization of Oneness

I testify that no sooner had the First Word proceeded, through the potency of Thy will and purpose, out of His mouth, and the First Call gone forth from His lips than the whole creation was revolutionized, and all that are in the heavens and all that are on earth were stirred to the depths. Through that Word the realities of all created things were shaken, were divided, separated, scattered, combined and reunited, disclosing, in both the contingent world and the heavenly kingdom, entities of a new creation, and revealing, in the unseen realms, the signs and tokens of Thy unity and oneness. Through that Call Thou didst announce unto all Thy servants the advent of Thy most great Revelation and the appearance of Thy most perfect Cause. 2

Timeline of the Divine Plan

Over the coming years, the community will, in fact, encounter a series of anniversaries, concluding with the Centenary of the Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in November 2021, which will close the first century of the Formative Age. Next year the Bahá’í world will mark one hundred years since the first of the Tablets of the Divine Plan 3 flowed from the pen of the Master. In these fourteen Tablets, revealed during one of humanity’s darkest hours, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá laid out a charter for the teaching work that defined its theatre of action as the entire planet. Held in abeyance until 1937, when the first in a succession of Plans launched at the instigation of the Guardian was assigned to the Bahá’ís of North America, the Divine Plan has continued to unfold over the decades since as the collective capacity of Bahá’u’lláh’s followers has grown, enabling them to take on ever-greater challenges. How wondrous the vision of the Plan’s Author! Placing before the friends the prospect of a day when the light of His Father’s Revelation would illuminate every corner of the world, He set out not only strategies for achieving this feat but guiding principles and unchanging spiritual requisites. Every effort made by the friends to systematically propagate the divine teachings traces its origins to the forces set in motion in the Divine Plan. 4

Cycles of Ages across Eras:

The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, whose supreme mission is none other but the achievement of this organic and spiritual unity of the whole body of nations, should, if we be faithful to its implications, be regarded as signalizing through its advent the coming of age of the entire human race. It should be viewed not merely as yet another spiritual revival in the ever-changing fortunes of mankind, not only as a further stage in a chain of progressive Revelations, nor even as the culmination of one of a series of recurrent prophetic cycles, but rather as marking the last and highest stage in the stupendous evolution of man’s collective life on this planet. The emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, the founding of a world civilization and culture—all of which must synchronize with the initial stages in the unfoldment of the Golden Age of the Bahá’í Era—should, by their very nature, be regarded, as far as this planetary life is concerned, as the furthermost limits in the organization of human society, though man, as an individual, will, nay must indeed as a result of such a consummation, continue indefinitely to progress and develop. 5

Protagonists / Actors

The effects of this systematic approach to human resource development are making themselves felt in the lives of all three protagonists of the Plan—the individual believer, the institutions, and the local community. There has been an upsurge in teaching activities undertaken at the initiative of the individual. Spiritual Assemblies, Councils, and committees have grown in their ability to guide the believers in their individual and collective endeavours. And community life has flourished, even in localities long dormant, as new patterns of thought and behaviour have emerged…. 6

The two stages in the unfoldment of the Divine Plan lying immediately ahead will last one year and five years respectively. At Riḍván 2000 the Bahá’í world will be asked to embark on the first of these two stages, a twelve-month effort aimed at concentrating the forces, the capacities and the insights that have so strongly emerged. The Five Year Plan that follows will initiate a series of worldwide enterprises that will carry the Bahá’í community through the final twenty years in the first century of the Faith’s Formative Age. These global Plans will continue to focus on advancing the process of entry by troops and on its systematic acceleration. 7

Ongoing Flow of Spiritual Guidance

In His Will and Testament ‘Abdu’l-Bahá conferred the mantle of Guardian of the Cause and infallible Interpreter of its teachings upon His eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, and confirmed the authority and guarantee of divine guidance decreed by Bahá’u’lláh for the Universal House of Justice on all matters “which have not outwardly been revealed in the Book.” The Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice can thus be seen to be, in the words of Shoghi Effendi, the “Twin Successors” of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. They are the supreme institutions of the Administrative Order which was founded and anticipated in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and elaborated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Will.

During the thirty-six years of his ministry, Shoghi Effendi raised up the structure of elected Spiritual Assemblies—the Houses of Justice referred to in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, now in their embryonic stage—and with their collaboration initiated the systematic implementation of the Divine Plan that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had laid out for the diffusion of the Faith throughout the world. He also set in motion, on the basis of the strong administrative structure that had been established, the processes which were an essential preparation for the election of the Universal House of Justice. This body, which came into existence in April 1963, is elected through secret ballot and plurality vote in a three-stage election by adult Bahá’ís throughout the world. The revealed Word of Bahá’u’lláh, together with the interpretations and expositions of the Center of the Covenant and the Guardian of the Cause, constitute the binding terms of reference of the Universal House of Justice and are its bedrock foundation. 8

Vision of the Oneness of Humanity

The experience of the Bahá’í community may be seen as an example of this enlarging unity. It is a community of some three to four million people drawn from many nations, cultures, classes and creeds, engaged in a wide range of activities serving the spiritual, social and economic needs of the peoples of many lands. It is a single social organism, representative of the diversity of the human family, conducting its affairs through a system of commonly accepted consultative principles, and cherishing equally all the great outpourings of divine guidance in human history. Its existence is yet another convincing proof of the practicality of its Founder’s vision of a united world, another evidence that humanity can live as one global society, equal to whatever challenges its coming of age may entail. If the Bahá’í experience can contribute in whatever measure to reinforcing hope in the unity of the human race, we are happy to offer it as a model for study. 9

Distance Traversed

O my brother! Take thou the step of the spirit, so that, swift as the twinkling of an eye, thou mayest flash through the wilds of remoteness and bereavement, attain the Riḍván of everlasting reunion, and in one breath commune with the heavenly Spirits. For with human feet thou canst never hope to traverse these immeasurable distances, nor attain thy goal. Peace be upon him whom the light of truth guideth unto all truth, and who, in the name of God, standeth in the path of His Cause, upon the shore of true understanding. 10

Awake, the eye sees only a short distance, but in the realm of dreams one who is in the East may see the West. Awake, he sees only the present; in sleep he beholds the future. Awake, by the fastest means he travels at most seventy miles in an hour; in sleep he traverses East and West in the blink of an eye. For the spirit has two modes of travel: without means, or spiritual travel, and with means, or material travel—as birds that fly, or as being carried in a vehicle. 11

However dark the outlook, however laborious the task, however strange and inhospitable the environment, however vast the distances that must be traversed, however scarce the amenities of life, however irksome the means of travel, however annoying the restrictions, however listless and confused the minds of the peoples and races contacted, however trying the setbacks that may be suffered, we must, under no circumstances, either falter or flinch. Our reliance on the unfailing grace of an all-loving, all-preserving, ever-sustaining, ever-watchful Providence, must, however much we may be buffeted by circumstances, remain unshaken until the very end. Shall we not, when hardships seethe about us, and our hearts momentarily quail, recall the ardent desire so poignantly voiced by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá in those immortal Tablets that enshrine forever His last wishes for His chosen disciples: “O that I could travel, even though on foot and in the utmost poverty, to these regions, and, raising the call of ‘Yá Bahá’u’l-Abhá’ in cities, villages, mountains, deserts and oceans, promote the Divine teachings! This, alas, I cannot do. How intensely I deplore it! Please God, ye may achieve it.” 12

Fifteen years have elapsed since, on an occasion such as this, we gave to the body of Counsellors assembled in the Holy Land the first intimation of the course the Bahá’í community would have to take, if it was to accelerate the dual process of its expansion and consolidation—a course which its accumulated experience had prepared it to steer with confidence. No need to remark on the distance traversed in a short decade and a half. The record of accomplishments speaks for itself. Today we invite you to begin deliberations on the next stage of the great enterprise on which the Bahá’í world is embarked, a stage that will stretch from Riḍván 2011 to Riḍván 2016, constituting the first of two consecutive Five Year Plans that will culminate at the centenary of the inauguration of the Faith’s Formative Age. 13

Three brief years remain until the centenary of the Master’s passing, when Bahá’ís the world over will gather and take account of the distance traversed over the first century of the Formative Age. May His loved ones, individually and collectively, little by little and day by day, increasingly embody His counsels: to be united in the Cause and firm in the Covenant; to avoid calumny and never speak ill of others; to see no strangers but regard all as members of one family; to set aside divergent theories and conflicting views and pursue a single purpose and common goal; to ensure that the love of Bahá’u’lláh has so mastered every organ, part, and limb as to leave no effect from the promptings of the human world; to arise with heart and soul and in one accord to teach the Cause; to march in serried lines, pressed together, each supporting the others; to cultivate good character, perseverance, strength, and determination; to know the value of this precious Faith, obey its teachings, walk in this road that is drawn straight, and show this way to the people. 14

Individual Capacity Building

Of course, your successes in the teaching field and in the development of local communities will only yield lasting results if you ensure the proper education of children and youth. Youth will undoubtedly be the most enthusiastic supporters of the programs of your institutes. They are eager to make a significant contribution to the progress of their communities and have shown, time and again, their capacity to respond to the call to service. They can be trained to help shoulder the manifold responsibilities demanded by rapid expansion and consolidation. But it is especially important for large numbers of them to become capable teachers of Bahá’í children’s classes. As you are well aware, without the education of children it is impossible to maintain victories from one generation to the next. 15

Towards ensuring an orderly evolution of the community, a function of Bahá’í institutions is to organize and maintain a process of developing human resources whereby Bahá’ís, new and veteran alike, can acquire the knowledge and capacity to sustain a continuous expansion and consolidation of the community. The establishment of training institutes is critical to such effort, since they are centers through which large numbers of individuals can acquire and improve their ability to teach and administer the Faith. Their existence underscores the importance of knowledge of the Faith as a source of power for invigorating the life of the Bahá’í community and of the individuals who compose it. 16

The effects of this systematic approach to human resource development are making themselves felt in the lives of all three protagonists of the Plan—the individual believer, the institutions, and the local community. There has been an upsurge in teaching activities undertaken at the initiative of the individual. Spiritual Assemblies, Councils, and committees have grown in their ability to guide the believers in their individual and collective endeavours. And community life has flourished, even in localities long dormant, as new patterns of thought and behaviour have emerged. 17

Building Vibrant Communities

At Riḍván 1996, the Bahá’ís of the world will embark on a global enterprise aimed at one major accomplishment: a significant advance in the process of entry by troops. This is to be achieved through marked progress in the activity and -development of the individual believer, of the institutions, and of the local community. That an advance in this process depends on the progress of all three of these intimately connected participants is abundantly clear. The next four years must witness a dramatic upsurge in effective teaching activities undertaken at the initiative of the individual. Thousands upon thousands of believers will need to be aided to express the vitality of their faith through constancy in teaching the Cause and by supporting the plans of their institutions and the endeavors of their communities. They should be helped to realize that their efforts will be sustained by the degree to which their inner life and private character “mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendor of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh.” An acceleration in the tempo of individual teaching must necessarily be complemented by a multiplication in the number of regional and local teaching projects. To this end the institutions should be assisted in increasing their ability to consult according to Bahá’í principles, to unify the friends in a common vision, and to use their talents in service to the Cause. Furthermore, those who enter the Faith must be integrated into vibrant local communities, characterized by tolerance and love and guided by a strong sense of purpose and collective will, environments in which the capacities of all components—men, women, youth and children—are developed and their powers multiplied in unified action. 18

In our Riḍván 2008 message we indicated that, as the friends continued to labour at the level of the cluster, they would find themselves drawn further and further into the life of society and would be challenged to extend the process of systematic learning in which they are engaged to encompass a widening range of human endeavours. A rich tapestry of community life begins to emerge in every cluster as acts of communal worship, interspersed with discussions undertaken in the intimate setting of the home, are woven together with activities that provide spiritual education to all members of the population—adults, youth and children. Social consciousness is heightened naturally as, for example, lively conversations proliferate among parents regarding the aspirations of their children and service projects spring up at the initiative of junior youth. Once human resources in a cluster are in sufficient abundance, and the pattern of growth firmly established, the community’s engagement with society can, and indeed must, increase. At this crucial point in the unfoldment of the Plan, when so many clusters are nearing such a stage, it seems appropriate that the friends everywhere would reflect on the nature of the contributions which their growing, vibrant communities will make to the material and spiritual progress of society. In this respect, it will prove fruitful to think in terms of two interconnected, mutually reinforcing areas of activity: involvement in social action and participation in the prevalent discourses of society. 19

Contributing to Social Transformation

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s treatise The Secret of Divine Civilization amply demonstrates the Faith’s commitment to promoting social change without entering into the arena of partisan politics. So too, innumerable passages in the Bahá’í Writings encourage the believers to contribute to the betterment of the world. “Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in,” Bahá’u’lláh states, “and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” 20 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá urges the friends to “become distinguished in all the virtues of the human world—for faithfulness and sincerity, for justice and fidelity, for firmness and steadfastness, for philanthropic deeds and service to the human world, for love toward every human being, for unity and accord with all people, for removing prejudices and promoting international peace.” 21 22

When the Bahá’í community was small, its contribution to social well-being was naturally limited. In 1983 the House of Justice announced that the growth of the Faith had given rise to the need for a greater involvement in the life of society. Bahá’ís began to engage more systematically in the work of social and economic development through activities of varying degrees of complexity. Efforts to contribute to social transformation also include participation in the public discourse on issues of concern to humanity, such as peace, the elimination of prejudices of all kinds, the spiritual and moral empowerment of youth, and the promotion of justice. These two types of activity have steadily increased over the past twenty-five years and will grow in scope and influence in the future. 23

World Conferences: Initial Agendas

Rendering Service to Humanity

Soon will your swiftly passing days be over, and the fame and riches, the comforts, the joys provided by this rubbish-heap, the world, will be gone without a trace. Summon ye, then, the people to God, and invite humanity to follow the example of the Company on high. Be ye loving fathers to the orphan, and a refuge to the helpless, and a treasury for the poor, and a cure for the ailing. Be ye the helpers of every victim of oppression, the patrons of the disadvantaged. Think ye at all times of rendering some service to every member of the human race. Pay ye no heed to aversion and rejection, to disdain, hostility, injustice: act ye in the opposite way. Be ye sincerely kind, not in appearance only. Let each one of God’s loved ones center his attention on this: to be the Lord’s mercy to man; to be the Lord’s grace. Let him do some good to every person whose path he crosseth, and be of some benefit to him. Let him improve the character of each and all, and reorient the minds of men. In this way, the light of divine guidance will shine forth, and the blessings of God will cradle all mankind: for love is light, no matter in what abode it dwelleth; and hate is darkness, no matter where it may make its nest. O friends of God! That the hidden Mystery may stand revealed, and the secret essence of all things may be disclosed, strive ye to banish that darkness for ever and ever. 24

World Conferences: Expanded Agendas

  1. Baháʾuʾlláh. Tablets of Baháʼuʼlláh, Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Translated by Habib Taherzadeh. 1st ed. Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1978, 86-87. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/tablets-bahaullah/3#697535395.
  2. Baháʼuʼlláh. Prayers and Meditations by Baháʼuʼlláh. Translated by Shoghi Effendi. 1938. Reprint, Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1974, 295-296, https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/prayers-meditations/7#023570582.
  3. ’Abdu’l-Bahá. Tablets of the Divine Plan. 1959. Reprint, Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1976. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/tablets-divine-plan/1#531491243.
  4. Universal House of Justice. “Message to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors.” 29 Dec. 2015, https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/20151229_001/1#135178049.
  5. Effendi, Shoghi. The World Order of Baháʾ’uʾ’lláh: Selected Letters. 1st pocket-sized ed. Wilmette, Ill: Bahaʾi Publishing Trust, 1991, 163. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/shoghi-effendi/world-order-bahaullah/10#580032274
  6. Universal House of Justice. “Letter to the Bahá’ís of the World.” Bahá’í Reference Library, 26 Nov. 1999, https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/19991126001/1#588882177.
  7. Ibid. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/19991126_001/1#065278070.
  8. Baháʾuʾlláh. The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book. Haifa: Baháʾi World Centre, 1992, 3-4. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/kitab-i-aqdas/3#455239592.
  9. Universal House of Justice. “To the Peoples of the World.” Bahá’í Reference Library, October 1985. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/19851001_001/1#147997794.
  10. Baháʼuʼlláh. The Kitáb-i-Íqán: The Book of Certitude Revealed by Bahá’u’lláh. Translated by Shoghi Effendi. Wilmette, Ill.: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1950, 43. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/kitab-i-iqan/3#654910007
  11. ʻAbduʾl-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. Translated by Laura Clifford Barney. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʾí Publishing Trust, 1981, 227. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/some-answered-questions/10#009799446
  12. Effendi, Shoghi. This Decisive Hour: Messages from Shoghi Effendi to the North American Baháʾís, 1932-1946. Baháʾí Publishing Trust, 1992, 127. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/shoghi-effendi/decisive-hour/7#988050800
  13. Universal House of Justice. “Letter to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors.” Bahá’í Reference Library, December 28, 2010. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/20101228_001/1#517599639
  14. Universal House of Justice. “Letter to the Bahá’ís of the World.” Bahá’í Reference Library, 26 Nov. 2018, https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/20181126001/1#923897221.
  15. Universal House of Justice. “Riḍván 153 – To the Followers of Bahá’u’lláh in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.” Bahá’í Reference Library, Riḍván 1996.
  16. Universal House of Justice. “Riḍván 155 – To the Bahá’ís of the World.” Bahá’í Reference Library. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/19980421_001/1#398436350.
  17. Universal House of Justice. “26 November 1999 – To the Bahá’ís of the World.” Bahá’í Reference Library.
  18. Universal House of Justice. “26 December 1995 – To the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors.” Bahá’í Reference Library. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/19951226_001/1#864076551
  19. Universal House of Justice. “Riḍván 2010 – To the Bahá’ís of the World.” Bahá’í Reference Library. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/20100421001/1#319669639.
  20. Bahá’u’lláh. The Tabernacle of Unity: Bahá ̕u̕ Lláh’s Responses to Mánikchí Ṣáḥib and Other Writings. Haifa: Bahá’i World Centre, 2006. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/tabernacle-unity/3#553038498
  21. ’Abdu’l-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 190. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/14#331882631.
  22. Universal House of Justice. “Letter to an Individual.” Bahá’í Reference Library, December 23, 2008. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/20081223_001/1#883189035
  23. Ibid. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/20081223_001/1#282465619
  24. ’Abdu’l-Bahá. Selections from the Writings of ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. Translated by Marzieh Gail. 1st ed. Haifa: Bahá’í World Center, 1978. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/selections-writings-abdul-baha/3#159531595.