Thoughts on the Five Year Plan (2016-2021)

I prepared the following speech for our Unit Convention today, about the current Five Year Plan:

For various reasons, I’ve been reading the Five Year Plan quite often this year, and studying it with others on many occasions. What all this study has taught me is: I am no expert on this Plan. I have no idea what its fulfillment is going to look like, even for Yolo. What I have learned is that I can only understand by putting it into practice, by failing here and there, reflecting, trying not to fail in quite the same ways, and then studying some more. It only really makes real sense in the trenches, so to speak, and there it shines rather beautifully sometimes, I must say.

Because the fact is, we’re doing something here that’s never been attempted before. If you look at the Encyclopedia Britannica, it lists the Bahá’í Faith as one of the world’s religions. If there was a card game made about religions, we’d be just one card in that deck. But this fails to recognize the truth that nothing like this has ever happened before. Not even close. Every religion of the past, all the past thousands of years, it is said, resulted in revealing just two of the letters of knowledge. With the Báb’s Dispensation, all the remaining 25 letters were revealed. All of them, all at once! That’s like 13x as much knowledge, in the past 170 years, compared to all the thousands that preceded it.

No one has ever seen a Faith like this, and no one knows what it will become. Look at the world today. We lose so much of our potential to wars, divisive politics, prejudice, hedonism, sexism – so many -isms! They say that humans, at any given moment, use no more than 10% of their brain power. I bet the world has hardly reached 1% of its collective brain power yet. We’re like a slumbering giant who has never been fully awake before. And that’s what our Plans are doing: slowing bringing consciousness to an enormous, sleeping beauty.

So what is the training institute about, really? Here’s something written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice that I think sums it up rather well:

[The agency of the training institute] …strives to engage the individual in an educational process in which virtuous conduct and self-discipline are developed in the context of service, fostering a coherent and joyful pattern of life that weaves together study, worship, teaching, community building and, in general, involvement in other processes that seek to transform society. At the heart of the educational process is contact with the Word of God, whose power sustains every individual’s attempts to purify his or her heart and to walk a path of service with “the feet of detachment”.[1]

I find this to be such a holistic description of the training institute; it talks about a joyful pattern that knits together the different aspects of human life in the context of service, with its core centered on the Word of God. The intention of the current Plans is to multiply this pattern across the world until it becomes a new model for civilization.

One of the nice things about the most recent Plan is that it lays out for us a unfolding description of what the results of the Plan look like at various stages, as the capacities of each community develop, and certain developmental milestones are achieved. It starts with just a small group of devoted friends, wishing to begin the educational process; and ends with thousands upon thousands being served, maybe even with ties to the functioning of local government.

Because one of the things we’re doing in this epoch of the Formative Age is to pivot on a global scale, and to turn our focus outward. Success for us is not found in personal salvation, or admittance into heaven. We are called upon to be the servants of all humanity, and our success is the happiness of the world. And this has never been attempted before. No Prophet in past memory has ever given His followers the mandate of ministering to the needs of the whole Earth.

Now, that does sound like a pretty tall order, and I know it can often seem like it’s very far away; as if my actions today don’t even have that much of an impact. So I wanted to say something about the value of individual initiative, and how important even the smallest of efforts is in this Cause. Bahá’u’lláh writes:

This Day a door is open wider than both heaven and earth. The eye of the mercy of Him Who is the Desire of the worlds is turned towards all men. An act, however infinitesimal, is, when viewed in the mirror of the knowledge of God, mightier than a mountain. Every drop proffered in His path is as the sea in that mirror.[2]

And in the Gleanings, He says:

One righteous act is endowed with a potency that can so elevate the dust as to cause it to pass beyond the heaven of heavens.[3]

One of the principles of our Faith is the harmony of science and religion, and a beautiful thing about this principle is that it allows us to look toward the physical world to gain understanding of spiritual principles. In fact, in the Seven Valleys, Bahá’u’lláh said,

… if we ponder each created thing, we shall witness a myriad perfect wisdoms, and learn a myriad new and wondrous truths.[4]

So where can we look to see the principle of a drop becoming a sea? If you remember the movie Jurassic Park, one of the scientific ideas popularized by that movie – not bringing dinosaurs to life from a drop of mosquitoes’ blood, though – was chaos theory. Well, one thing we’ve learned from chaos theory is that the world is an intensely interdependent system, with each part interacting with every other part. In such a system, the beating of a butterfly’s wings in the south China sea can, through a chain of events, build up to a hurricane in the Atlantic. Even though this chain of events is bound by the laws of science, it remains completely unpredictable because of the sheer number of variables involved in the equation.

Such a phenomenon explains how relatively minor events can have disproportionately large outcomes. One person’s prayer in America could become the impetus for a large surge of activity in India, though we’d never know it.

Or look at history. During the last ice age, average temperatures on Earth were only twelve degree cooler than they are today. Here in West Sacramento, you can often see forty degrees of difference within twelve hours! But these twelve degrees, on a global scale, resulted in towers of ice one mile thick covering large parts of North America.

What we’re doing with these training institutes is not just about education. There are many organizations that know a lot about education. What we’re teaching people is about their own nobility, their amazing potential, and the extremely positive prospects offered by a world in unity. We’re striving to communicate the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, which have the power to warm and thaw human hearts. We’re starting slowly, and we’re a small group, but if we warm these hearts by just a few degrees, the interdependent nature of the two worlds – this Earth and the Abhá Kingdom – will, at some point suddenly end this ice age of spiritual darkness we’ve been stumbling through, and bring about the dawn of our maturity as a species. It’s not a long hill we have to climb over thousands of years; all it requires is a small but determined impetus, the beating of a butterfly’s wings across the world, for forces to be set in motion that can change everything. And that begins right here, during this Plan.

I would like to end with these words from `Abdu’l-Bahá:

Lift up your hearts above the present and look with eyes of faith into the future! Today the seed is sown, the grain falls upon the earth, but behold the day will come when it shall rise a glorious tree and the branches thereof shall be laden with fruit. Rejoice and be glad that this day has dawned, try to realize its power, for it is indeed wonderful[5]

Footnotes: [1] Extract from a letter dated 19 April 2013 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a number of individual Bahá’ís resident in Europe

[2] Bahá’u’lláh, cited by Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, pp. 117-18

[3] Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 287

[4] Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys, p. 32

[5] `Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 68