The process of building the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Establishing the Kingdom on earth is the Work of God for this revelation. How can we envision this process happening? How can we observe this advancement of Divine civilization? Let us explore how through the community-building process led by the Bahá’í institute process and the Universal House of Justice.
The series of study courses from the Institute make up an educational program to help develop spiritual living on earth. In the program, we learn how to develop spiritual awareness, how to see the “confirmation” in our daily life; we learn the spiritual language to understand the spiritual reality in the Word of God and use the language to express our inner feelings. Through science and art we manifest our understanding of the knowledge of God and express it from our spiritual nature. Through personal reflection and the challenges we go through, we learn to improve our spiritual qualities and develop our capacity to serve. We gain insight and spiritual perception while we are guided to serve humanity. We realize our purpose in life and our true identity. We serve and want to live a more meaningful life to be the true being we have been created to be. These are aspects that the series of courses bring us to think about; these are what we can expect to learn for personal spiritual development.
Because the study course are organized in the community, it also makes use of collective practice. When we create a space for group study, we create a space in the community to allow people from diverse backgrounds to come together to start a conversation/consultation based on the Word of God. Through the spiritual gatherings in which the Word of God is studied, the group will experience the effects of the power of the Holy Spirit. Usually, we can observe this through the joy in studying and the unique understanding gained through collective sharing. Over time, we can see other effects from the power of the Holy Spirit, such as differences between people being transcended, perspectives being harmonized, qualities for service being developed, consultation promoted, recognition of the oneness of humanity, strengthened friendships, and developed spiritual bonds.
In the community-building process, through collective learning from addressing challenges, new community cultures are forming — spiritual consultation is gradually becoming a new way of solving problems. Consultation becomes the standard method of keeping the community united. Just as adjusting one’s own mindset is important when an individual overcomes their personal challenges, it is important that each individual focuses on detachment from their personal concerns in community living. The more we feel we are interconnected and inter-dependent, the more likely oneness can be realized. This will improve the quality of consultation and unite the hearts deeper. This process can’t be achieved without turning to the aid of the Holy Spirit, which is the Sun of Truth for the age. We can’t progress with our own power; we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit in our journey from the world to the world to come.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá told us that life is like a sailing boat; the power to move comes from the wind and not from the boat itself. But it is the captain who uses the wind to take the boat to its destination. All power comes from God. Without His aid we are powerless. When we only look at ourselves, all we see is weakness. But when we turn to God and implore His aid and assistance, we find the strength to do what is pleasing to Him.
How to envision the Spiritual Reality of the Community?
When the four core activities take root in the community, we can see the effects as mentioned above. Naturally, these effects can become the indicators for measuring spiritual vitality in community development. If we look into more details from the contents in Ruhi Book 1, we are helped to understand what is needed to gradually establish spiritual living on earth. First, we need to start reading the Holy Writings and reflecting on them. We need to receive the knowledge of God and try to understand it, so we can apply it in our daily life. Abdu’l-Bahá told us that only the Word of God has power to awaken our spiritual perception of God. When we have a thirst for it, it becomes possible for us to receive and benefit from it. Responding to the Word of God is the first sign of spiritual awakening.
It is more likely for the fire of love toward God to be ignited when our heart is touched by God. Prayer is an expression of love for God, but before we can feel God’s love, prayer is a way of cultivating a thirst and desire for His love. We learn how to pray at His threshold. From the sweet melody of the verses; we let the feelings in our heart evolve. Seeking “confirmation” from God helps us to see the signs of God. The more we observe how God answers our prayers to meet our needs, the more we feel He is in our life. From observing how God sustains our needs and how He arranges things for us through other people, we learn how God loves us and how to reflect His attributes. Prayer, meditation, and confirmation help us develop our spiritual perception, and we learn to love God.
The third unit pertains to learning about life and death which helps us understand the mystery of our soul. Through learning about the human soul, we learn what is perishable and what is eternal. The more we understand the purpose of physical existence and advance our spiritual understanding of it, the more we realize spiritual development is the one true development we need. Clearly understanding the purpose of earthly life, we can be more thankful to God. With this gratitude, we can endure the challenges and stay firm in the covenant. Knowing God, His attributes, and understanding His wish (what meets His pleasure) is so critical because that is how we sustain our spirit of life. All the mysteries and powers are in the Word of God. The Word of God tells us how to live as an eternal being and gives us power to be an eternal being. So, understanding the soul’s purpose (discussed in unit 3) can’t happen without studying and reflecting on the Holy Writings (found in unit 1) and seeking divine guidance (discussed in unit 2). Book 1 is truly about the foundation for spiritual living. Through the development of spiritual perception, we are able to see, to hear, and live in that spiritual reality, the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, through the study of Book 1, when we cultivate these aspects, we should be able to observe many effects: we respond to the Word of God more, we feel the love of God more, we see the signs of God more, we feel the transformation of our hearts, our faith strengthens, we rely on God more, we realize there is something for us to learn from challenges and that God is at work, we learn the knowledge of God better, and we worship God through our actions more. In the realm of spiritual reality, we see the Kingdom being made manifest. Through our participation in action, we see the process of building the Kingdom on earth. Then we see the effulgent light shine from the Kingdom even when it is hidden behind the chaos of the world.
What is our true identity? Baha’u’llah tells us:
O Son of Being! Thou are My lamp and My light is in thee.
O Son of Man! Thou art My dominion and My dominion perisheth not.
All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory.
O ye Sons of Spirit! Ye are my treasury, for in you I have treasured the pearls of My mysteries and the gems of My knowledge.
Ye are the saplings which the hand of Loving-kindness hath planted in the soil of mercy, and which the showers of bounty have made to flourish.Baha’u’llah
Our spiritual being is like the saplings, full of potential. It potentially can illuminate the light of God –the light of knowledge, the light of love, and the light of a good character. Through spiritual education we learn how to attract the bounties of God and to uncover that potential. Our heart is like a piece of land which bestows all we need. It has the richness of the Dominion of the Kingdom, but we need to discover its treasures and learn to use all its resources like we use the resources of earth. Baha’u’llah said “thy heart is my home, sanctify it for my descent”, so we need to protect it from the attacks of desires and passions so God can have a home there.
O SON OF DUST!
All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory; yet thou didst give My home and dwelling to another than Me; and whenever the manifestation of My holiness sought His own abode, a stranger found He there, and, homeless, hastened unto the sanctuary of the Beloved. Notwithstanding I have concealed thy secret and desired not thy shame.Baha’u’llah
How to read spiritual reality as collective development?
Up to this point, we have discussed what we can expect to happen in our individual spiritual learning and what can be the indicators in this process. From the capacity’s development, we sense the vitality of the spirit. How about the spiritual vitality of the community? How can we read that reality? Here, let’s investigate two different aspects:
‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that spiritual development in nature is divided into several spiritual stages: minerals, plants, animals, and humans. Each stage manifests different levels of spiritual power. First is the power of cohesion, then growth, then perception, and finally the power of consciousness, understanding, and intellect. Therefore, in community development, we can imagine that the cohesion power equates to the connection of human hearts. The formation of a study circle and the development of core activities are an outward expression of cohesion. The increase in the occurrence of core activities represents growth. With the spiritual activities taking root, we see the spiritual conversation advancing. We become more aware of the signs of God and recognize what comes from our heart. We perceive what is from God and how we receive from Him. This is the development of spiritual perception, and we might find that we talk about it more often in our daily life. From the improvement in the quality of spiritual perception, we see community consultation in a more spiritual light. Our understanding gets sharper and our insight gets deeper. This is the development of consciousness and intellect which we can observe from the quality of spiritual activities. We also can see our thoughts more aligned with the Sun of Truth. The strength of the power of unity and the light of divine science and art illuminates the communities in which spiritual living has taken root. The collective’s actions become the force of attraction for the bounties of God. In this way, the light of unity will shine on earth. The “power of the light of unity” can only manifest through united action. It has no power when we make it only a slogan or fail to support words with deeds.
In another aspect we can investigate this process as the development of an organism. If we think about how embryos grow in the womb, we know how the “body” develops from a cell to a completely capable organism. We see how the development of organs takes place and how their functions can be refined. We also see how connection formation takes place to manifest the complexity of the human temple. This process is what we can envision to understand how the human temple of revelation develops. Global community development is the process of growing the Spirit of Life in the whole human race. It happens in different localities like how different organs develop simultaneously. Physical body development follows the natural laws; the spirit of the human temple develops following the Covenant between man and God. We can only expect the spiritual body to develop when the power of the Covenant works in the process. The power of the Holy Spirit is what makes this process possible, and we all rely on it and depend on it. Therefore, seeking the solution from the Writings and the Guidance is so important when we serve the Cause. How much the communities center themselves on the Covenant and how well they reflect on the Writings and the Guidance to seek solutions, and how well they learn from each other as a community and with other communities is the indicator of this development of the human temple. This process can only be seen when we are in the Covenant and following the Divine Guidance. Turning to the Sun of Truth is what determines if we are serving God effectively or not. This is the Spiritual Reality (the Truth) which Bahá’u’lláh has made clear to mankind.
Group study is not only a space that can help us deepen more effectively, but it also has the effect of transcending differences, harmonizing perspectives, developing qualities for service, promoting consultation, recognizing oneness of humanity, and developing the spirit. These all are the aspects of cultivating unity. With the knowledge of God, the love of God, and the image of God, the Divine Unity can be recognized. This is the true spiritual awakening, and this makes the Kingdom on earth firmly established. These are the Great Tidings which Bahá’u’lláh brings to us and this is how we should live our earthly life, as a spiritual being. When we see ourselves develop these aspects of spirituality, we see the two wings, the material and the spiritual, equally developed.
The institute process is really a tool for establishing the Kingdom on earth. It gives a way to develop as individuals and as a collective. In this process, because the follower centers themselves with the Covenant and makes their cause the development of the human temple, the blueprint being God’s plan, this makes the divine power able to flow into the physical realm and allows the effulgence of the glory of God to manifest in the human world. If we know how sacred the duty we have been called for is, and what blessings are awaiting us, we will strive to begin our God given work. God’s bounty is immeasurable, but we need to learn how to attract those bounties. May we all receive our portion of bounties which have been prepared for us. May we all find our place in the City of God.
“Today, as never before, the magnet which attracts the blessings from on high, is teaching the Faith of God. The Hosts of Heaven are poised between heaven and earth, just waiting, and patiently for the Bahá’í to step forth, with pure devotion and consecration, to teach the Cause of God, so that they may rush to his aid and assistance. It is the Guardian’s prayer that the friends may treble their efforts, as the time is short — alas, the workers too few. Let those who wish to achieve immortality, step forth and raise the Divine Call. They will be astonished at the spiritual victories they will gain.”Shoghi Effendi