|The manager of the Ottawa Baha’i Center Bookstore ordered several copies of Falling Into Grace today. She said that people find the “checklist” of challenges in the back very helpful.
Falling Into Grace (on sale this week) was written to help new Baha’is deal with some of the challenges of joining the Community. Once it was published, it became clear that it was helping long-time Baha’is too. It sold 3000 copies in less than a year, was reprinted, and then revised and reprinted again.
The checklist in the back is a simple list of Baha’i Teachings and Baha’i Laws. What makes it useful is the invitation to think about them in terms of how much sense they make to you logically compared to how well you have internalized them emotionally, and how well you follow them in practice.
Since the Friends in Canada are finding it helpful, I thought I would offer it to all of you for your consideration.
From Falling Into Grace:
Appendix 1 – Analyzing Our Trouble Spots
The following is a list of over 80 Bahá’í principles. I invite you to seriously consider each of these principles and rate them in terms of how well you think you intellectually understand them, and then again in terms of how well you think you have really emotionally and spiritually internalized them. You get to decide what code to use. 5-1 or 1-100, X’s or ü‘s, Y or N, whatever works for you. This way no one else knows how you scored yourself.
You may find, for example, that you really understand the idea that God loves you, but have a difficult time feeling that love. You may find that the social teachings are easier to understand but harder to live than the metaphysical ones. Everyone is different. Being honest about where you stand will allow you to identify areas in which you need deepening and/or practice. It will also remind you of where your strengths are so that you can return to them when you lose your bearings.
This is not a test. You only fail if you fail to learn something about yourself.
Teachings about Religion:
__ __The purpose of religion is to promote love and unity between all people. A religion that promotes conflict is worse than no religion at all.
__ __There is only One God, Who loves all of humanity equally.
__ __God is a perfect Creator, while humanity is His perfect creation.
__ __In creation, perfection includes the capacity to grow and develop.
__ __When a human soul grows, it moves from ignorance to knowledge, from childishness to wisdom.
__ __For humans to grow in knowledge and wisdom, they need teachers.
__ __Because God loves all of humanity, He sent us many Teachers at different times and places. They are known as Messengers, Manifestations or Prophets of God.
__ __Humans (individually and collectively) are in a two-way relationship with God. God has promised to love and guide us forever. In return, we must promise to love His Messengers, and follow (or obey) Their guidance. This two-way agreement is called The Greater Covenant.
__ __God’s Messengers teach us how to know, love and worship God; how to develop our virtues; and how to work together so that civilization as a whole can advance.
__ __In the past, society needed an educated clergy to pass on the teachings of the Prophet. Now that literacy is widespread, people can take responsibility for their own spiritual education.
__ __It is up to each of us to investigate the Truth and try to live in harmony with God’s spiritual, moral and social teachings.
__ __Our motive for following God’s teachings is not that we feel guilty when we don’t follow them, but rather that we experience more joy, radiance, inner peace and closeness to God when we do.
__ __Joy comes from knowing that we are living in harmony with our true purpose in life, which is to know and love God.
__ __The essence of God is not something our rational minds can comprehend, but the qualities of God, like generosity and mercy, are reflected in our hearts.
__ __To know God is to know His spiritual qualities, and to love God is to love His spiritual qualities.
__ __To be “created in God’s image,” means that we reflect the spiritual qualities of God.
__ __When we love God’s qualities, we reflect them in our lives and actions. When we reflect them, we come to know and understand them. This is what it means to know and love God. This is what life is all about: developing virtues. That is our purpose, and doing it brings us joy.
__ __Since we are made in the image of God, we know that we are created good and noble, but we still need guidance in order to develop our full potential.
__ __The way to receive guidance is to study the life and teachings of God’s Prophets, who mirror God’s qualities.
__ __Our love for God can be expressed and deepened through prayer, meditation, fasting, teaching and service.
__ __God’s love is like the sunshine, waiting to be reflected. It is available to everyone equally, but through our free will, we can turn ourselves away from it. We must love God and turn towards Him in order for His love to be reflected in us.
__ __God loves us individually as well as collectively.
__ __God is a God of bounty. He is “more friend to me than I am to myself.” We may trust God to satisfy our needs.
__ __Money and wealth are not evil; they are simply a distraction, which can, if we are not careful, sidetrack our focus on developing spiritual qualities.
__ __When art and music are used to uplift rather than degrade the soul, they can have powerful positive effects.
__ __There is only one human family, and all races, nations and cultures reflect the wonderful diversity of that family.
__ __Humanity goes through stages of development similar to those of an individual. We are currently moving from “adolescence” to maturity, which is a difficult but exciting time of transition.
__ __The transition into the global equivalent of “maturity” will involve a certain level of chaos and difficulty, but will also release wonderful new potential.
__ __Many people focus on the chaos and problems in the world and become frightened and confused, but if we look at our potential, we have reason to be optimistic. After all, we go through adolescence towards the beginning of our lives, not the end.
__ __World Peace is not only possible, but is the only reasonable expectation for a mature human race. A World Parliament is needed to organize and maintain global peace and cooperation.
__ __Economic and environmental problems can be solved through the application of spiritual principles.
__ __Women and men are equal in their capacity to reflect the image, or virtues of God. God is neither male nor female. The word “He” is often used in scripture only because we do not have a neutral personal pronoun in English.
__ __The family is the building block of civilization and needs to be strengthened and supported.
__ __Education of children is one of the most important forms of service possible.
__ __Science and Religion are simply two different ways of exploring God’s creation and should be in harmony.
__ __The world needs an international auxiliary language to allow better communication and greater cooperation and trust between peoples. This will promote world peace.
__ __The material world is a classroom, which we should utilize, respect and preserve for future generations.
__ __While meditation and periods of solitude are valuable, we should remain active in the world and not isolate ourselves.
__ __All work done in the spirit of service is counted as worship.
__ __God is the Creator. He is not in His creation, nor is He separate from His creation. He is reflected in creation the way a mirror reflects the sun, or a piece of music reflects the spirit of the composer. The relationship between the Creator and creation is eternal.
__ __The rational soul is God’s greatest gift to humans, but it is still limited in its ability to understand itself, let alone its unknowable Creator. All we can know about God are those qualities that are already reflected within us.
__ __Each of us is unique. Our uniqueness is a result of spiritual, biological and environmental factors.
__ __The soul is immortal. If it is attracted to the attributes of God, it will be strengthened and continue to move towards God after death. If not, it will weaken and fade.
__ __There is no locked door between “heaven” and “hell.” Heaven is simply moving towards God. Hell is moving away. If you love truth, justice and kindness, then you will move towards God, no matter what you call yourself.
__ __For a spiritually strong person, death is the door to true life. We will retain our identities and communicate with loved ones. We will not return to the physical world. We will continue to grow and serve in the spiritual world.
__ __The soul exists independent of time and space as we know it. The soul is not “in” the body, any more than a light is “in” a mirror, or a broadcast is “in” a radio. The connection is real, but intangible.
__ __Evil is simply the absence of good in the same way as darkness is the absence of light. Though the darkness of hatred or immorality can be inconvenient, it is not a force to be fought, but rather a need to be filled by the light of love and virtue.
__ __There is a lot more to creation than we can ever imagine. The world is not an illusion, nor is it a game.
__ __We are not God, nor are we gods, nor are we Manifestations of God. But that’s okay because being unique, loved, spiritual reflections of God, with the free-will capacity to love and serve, is quite enough for any soul to handle.
__ __The human soul is different from the animal spirit and reflects more of God’s attributes.
__ __The human species has always been distinct, though it may have gone through evolutionary stages resembling animals.
__ __The soul or spirit of the individual comes into being with the conception of his physical body.
__ __The spiritual powers of the human soul include imagination, thought, comprehension, memory and the “common faculty” which is the interface between these inner powers and the body.
__ __When we die, we will have spiritual communication and vision, and move outside the realms of time or space. Trying to develop these abilities before we die can damage our souls and slow our progress in the afterlife.
__ __Our connection with humanity is strengthened by love of God and love for each other – not through drugs or psychic experimenting.
About God’s Messengers:
__ __There are two kinds of Prophets or Teachers – Primary Messengers, like Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and Bahá’u’lláh, and secondary messengers, like Isaiah and St. John, who received their inspiration from the others.
__ __The Primary Messengers (what Bahá’ís call “Manifestations of God”), receive their enlightenment from God and know more about creation (us) than we know about ourselves.
__ __We need these Manifestations of God in order to help us understand the difference between what is true and what we simply wish were true. Teachers often tell us things we would prefer not to hear or believe.
__ __All Manifestations are equal in knowledge and spirit, but the richness of their teachings was limited by their followers’ abilities to understand.
__ __God’s Teachers directed the progress of civilization, either directly or indirectly, and built upon each other’s contributions.
__ __God’s Messengers have not come to save us because we are inherently evil, but rather to educate us, because we are inherently ignorant and in need of guidance.
__ __Manifestations bring two kinds of teachings – spiritual and social. The spiritual teachings are eternal, but the social teachings change to meet the needs of the time.
__ __The Prophets spoke in parables and symbols, and those who have “eyes to see and ears to hear” read scripture from that perspective.
__ __The Manifestations of God are perfect reflections of God, they are not God in His Essence, nor are they little pieces of God.
__ __God, His Messengers and the Holy Spirit are what Christians call The Father, The Christ and The Holy Ghost. These three can be likened to the sun, a perfect mirror and the light that reflects off the mirror to create a perfect image of the Sun. While the sun never leaves the sky, the mirror (Messenger) can still be said to represent the sun (God) on earth through the power of its light (Holy Spirit).
__ __Jesus was born of a virgin and was the spiritual Son, not the physical Son of God. God’s spiritual “Son” rose spiritually to a spiritual Heaven to live forever.
__ __The term “return” refers to a return of the spiritual qualities or spiritual station of Prophets, not their physical return. For example, Jesus said that John the Baptist was the return of Elias, even though physically, John was His cousin.
__ __One can tell a true Prophet from a false one by the “fruit” of His teachings and the example of His life.
__ __Administrative bodies are elected by secret ballot with no campaigning and no nominations. In a tie between a member of a minority and someone else, the minority representative fills the position.
__ __Decisions are made through consultation. In consultation, ideas do not “belong” to any individual, but rather to the group. Don’t be stubborn or mean. Don’t whine and don’t be manipulative with your words or emotions.
__ __Steps in consultation are: Determining the facts, determining the principles involved, discussing options, making sure everyone has been heard from, arriving at consensus or taking a vote and then universally and wholeheartedly supporting the decision.
__ __There are no “no” votes, only “yes” votes and abstentions. If the majority do not vote for a proposal, then it fails. You only need a majority of those present, not all members (provided there is at least a quorum present).
__ __The Assembly answers to God, not the Community. If members of the Community disagree, they can appeal or ask the Assembly to reconsider, but they can’t try to pressure or “outvote” the Assembly.
__ __In any consultation, the body is free to make different decisions under seemingly identical situations, as long as law and principle are both upheld.
__ __Everything in God’s Creation is connected in some way. All human souls are connected spiritually, which means that we affect and influence one another in ways we don’t always realize. The good or harm we do unto others also affects us.
__ __When we remember that we are primarily spiritual beings, and also recognize the fact that we are spiritually connected to everyone else on earth, then most moral and ethical teachings become easier to understand.
__ __We should strive to strengthen our spiritual capacities, which include: generosity, kindness, patience, forgiveness, cleanliness, chastity, honesty and trustworthiness, justice, wisdom, intellectual perception, equity, truthfulness, benevolence, courage, fortitude, respect, rectitude, self-sacrifice, obedience, service to God and guidance and education of others. This is just a starting point.
__ __”The Golden Rule” is a natural expression of our sense of connection to everyone else – even those people who seem like they are our enemies.
__ __We should work on our own faults, ignore others’ faults and avoid “backbiting.“
__ __Parents should love and educate their children. Children should honor and serve their parents.
__ __Some people are motivated by reward, others by punishment. Most of us require both, so God’s Justice includes both. Punishment is not the same as vengeance.
__ __When sick, we should use both prayer and the best medical advice available.
Analyzing Our Trouble Spots – Laws
If you’ve made it this far, I guess you are ready to take a look at your relationship to Bahá’í Laws. This list was not meant to be your first introduction to Bahá’í Law. I assume that you have read one of the other introductory “Welcome to the Community” books that explains the Bahá’í Laws in greater detail before you got here.
This list has an entirely different purpose. Here, I encourage you to consider the degree to which you feel you understand the spiritual logic behind a law, and then the ease with which you think you will be able to obey it. This will help you become aware of potential problems, especially around laws that you don’t understand, that you are likely to break and which carry sanctions. If you find several, then please go find someone you trust and ask for support. Look for the attribute of God that the law is designed to develop, and try to love it. Also pray for strength and understanding. But also give yourself credit for all of the many laws that you find easy to obey.
Personal Laws Between You and God
All laws become binding at the age of 15
__ __Read the Sacred Writings every morning and evening
__ __Say one of the three obligatory prayers every day
__ __And follow the directions that go with them
__ __Say Alláh’u’Abhá 95 times every day
__ __Practice consultation when making decisions
__ __Engage in an occupation that both supports you
financially and is of service to humanity
__ __Avoid idleness and sloth and do not beg
__ __Educate your children, especially your girl children
__ __Keep yourself, your clothes and your home clean
__ __Go on pilgrimage if at all possible
Social Laws between You and God
__ __Teach other people about the Faith.
Participate in Bahá’í Community life, including
__ __Attend Feast
__ __Contribute to the Fund
__ __Pay Huqúqu’lláh
__ __Participate in Bahá’í elections
__ __Observe Holy Days
__ __Observe the 19 Day Fast
__ __Write a Will and have a Bahá’í burial
__ __Be buried, not cremated
__ __Lead a chaste life, with all of its many implications
__ __Avoid cruelty to animals
__ __Avoid partisan politics and conflicts
__ __Avoid carrying weapons unless absolutely necessary
Laws For Which There Are Sanctions
Certain behaviors have such a strong impact on you and society at large that the Bahá’í Administration is authorized to exert direct pressure upon individuals to encourage obedience. These include:
__ __Gossip that undermines the unity of the Community
__ __Flagrant use of alcoholic beverages
__ __Use of narcotic drugs unless prescribed by a doctor
__ __Flagrant sexual activity outside of marriage
__ __Flagrant homosexual activity
__ __Joining a political party or running for political office
__ __Violating civil law
Violating Bahá’í marriage laws. These include requirements to:
__ __Get consent from all living parents
__ __Say the vow “We will all, verily, abide by the Will of God”
__ __Have Assembly approval of two witnesses
__ __Go through a “year of waiting” before getting divorced
We are to remain loyal and obedient to our government unless to do so would require us to break another Bahá’í law. Many civil laws parallel Bahá’í laws, including those against:
These are laws which are not yet binding on non-Persians, or that probably do not apply to your daily life
__ __Husband’s payment of a dowry to his wife
__ __Various laws on inheritance
__ __Multiple spouses
__ __Slave trading
__ __Asceticism and monasticism (being a Monk)
__ __Priesthood, pulpits and kissing of hands
__ __The sacrament of Confession (not to be confused with
simply talking with friends about mistakes you’ve made).
__ __Saying your daily obligatory prayer as a group
__ __Muttering Sacred Writings in public to appear holy
__ __Plunging your hand into public sources of food
__ __Shaving your head
I hope you’ve found these checklists helpful.