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On Ruhi, Before Ruhi

I recently wrote a friend and provided an example of somebody being on the bad end of Ruhi. The individual in question was on the receiving end of a rude individual's accusations on the individual's spirituality and character for not doing Ruhi. The irony was that the individual on the receiving end was in fact taking Ruhi classes; this individual had simply chosen a different teacher. I sense the student received some certitude for their choice when they received intimidation from a potential teacher.

It's not my intent to discredit Ruhi. I'm not suggesting that rude behavior is common-place. I'm not even speculating that a fatal concentration of such behavior exists in the Baha'i Faith. Not having gone through Ruhi, I cannot judge it. I can only understand my feelings and set some expectations for myself so that when I do go through Ruhi, the experience is objective-driven. This journal entry is my latest thinking on Ruhi. It will make for an interesting reflection to compare what I thought and expected with what I experience.

I sense the fear and anxiety, expressed by some long time Baha'is, is that Ruhi leads down the path to rote expressions of faith and negative kinds of group-think that we associated with more clergied religion. In many ways, I agree that Ruhi has the potential to evolve into that, as evidenced by the behavior of some individuals whose zeal enables them to levy old religion tactics of guilt and accusation against people who don't conform as they do.

My biggest fear of Ruhi is that it will lead to codification of interpretation on things that are more esoteric and abstract. To start with, the name itself, means spirit or spiritual. It seems plausible that as Ruhi evolves that people might suggest to add books that codify abstract aspects of theology, metaphysics, and spiritual life. I admit the possibility of this being appropriate, but I sense humanity will need to have evolved quite a bit for that type of outcome to seem appropriate.

Part of the beauty of spirituality is experiencing the epiphanies and realizations first hand. Spirituality cannot be taught in the same way most knowledge can be taught. Spirituality is fundamentally a personal experience. What can be taught are fundamental assumptions and methodologies that allow people to piece together what they read or ponder so that it can be applied in action.

Most of my spiritual progress comes from trying to understand esoteric and abstract concepts. It stems from the idea if I can understand these advanced concepts and learn to incorporate them into my own life, then I'll eventually become a better person. Many established mystical traditions (Buddhism, Sufi, Christian monastic life, etc.) often emphasize a disciplined process of detachment and reflection. This process of enlightenment makes one more spiritual, that is - more mindful of his relationship to God, to himself, and to all other things in this world (friends, families, enemies, animals, etc.), resulting in a character that behaves compassionately and justly. Mystics understand the abstract because of this process.

The problem is most mystical traditions are wholly impractical for dealing with the human condition on a massive scale. They are escapist traditions because one learns to escape or minimize the effects of the human condition on himself. A mystic learns to exist with love for the world despite its failings and his actions will reflect his conscience. Unfortunately, what can happen is that a mystic might never come down from his mountain of understanding. Such people find the infinite expanse of knowledge in these abstracts and they get stuck there, pondering many wonders.

Isolation from the world has value for some, perchance to develop one's certitude for one's self, to cement that one's convictions are held as his own private testament to God. Eventually one must arrive at conclusion to stay on the mountain and ponder more or to go down and test all that he has pondered. A bird that soars high towards Heavenly knowledge shows one glory, but greater is that bird that then descends to assist those that they might know, too. Charity isn't good solely for charity's sake. It's good because it removes a roadblock that might otherwise prevent somebody from being able to understand God for himself.

I realize I levy oversimplified judgment on mystics, but I'm simply trying to highlight the potential problems of mysticism. I say "tends" because some have learned to practice a more practical form of mysticism. I fully understand that mystics often begin with practical lessons; it is just that the lessons can tend to evolve into dealing with the esoteric problems of an individual's "being" or the detachment process can appear more dogmatic in its institutionalized forms because a lot of people have a difficulty understanding how to apply mystical knowledge. I do not fault these traditions for their view - they just came before a time when they could effectively deal with the problems of massive populations.

Things are different now. Many people are empowered with information and information is growing exponentially. Education is becoming more widespread. Technology is available to work things that would have been miraculous in the past. We don't need a clergy. We don't need shaykhs, priests, or monks to interpret the Word of God for us. We don't need them to exemplify good living. Many of us know through our own eyes and have a conscience that demands submission.

Like mysticism, Ruhi seems to want to develop an individual's spirituality, but it seems to do so by focusing on the practical. It focuses on practical aspects of "Baha'i culture and Baha'i life"... basic worldview assumptions, how to act nicely, how to teach your kids, the history of the faith, how to teach, how to establish good families, etc. etc. Each Ruhi book seems to starts with a small number of basic/fundamental concepts and encourages the seeker to understand how to incorporate those concepts into living a life purposed with improving the human condition for himself and those around him. From what I've seen of excerpted Ruhi material online, only the most basic of metaphysical and spiritual assumptions and concepts are stated as fact. These ideas are communicated through a basic lexicon, embodied inherently through the language of the Scripture. It's a practical necessity to ground everybody on basic concepts and lexicon. Without them you have no uniform way of communicating or discussing more advanced spiritual concepts. A common lexicon for basic concepts also helps to cement some form of unity that is the shared spiritual and religious identity of being a Baha'i.

Like numerous mystical traditions, Ruhi has teachers. Teachers are not an absolute necessity to develop spirituality, but it certainly helps to have one. I believe that a student chooses his teacher. The teacher is afforded respect because the student gives it. Just because a teacher has students means that the teacher will be any good for a particular individual. At some point, the student graduates. He may still defer to his teacher, but that is still a choice, granted out of love and respect, rather than obligation and any sense of perceived station. In essence, he defers for the same reason as he did when he was a student!

I sense the best type of Ruhi teacher, for me, is one who will empower more with questions rather than answers. I acknowledge this as an aspect of my character. If any answer is provided with certainty, it would be standalone text from the Sacred Writings. Text from the Master, the Guardian, or the Universal House of Justice is used to confirm or question my interpretation. Deference to any other opinion is done by choice because I sense alignment with Scripture.

If there is any teacher that I do not wish to have, it is one who expects conformity with their interpretation, their way of thinking, or their understanding of how knowledge should be applied in action. Such people expect deference from me because of how they see themselves. They are the kind of people who assign motive to others, levy accusations of apostacy, and make a point to exalt their own behavior. They are the kind of people who believe they can measure their spiritual self worth in terms of the number of completed Ruhi courses. These types of behaviors are asinine, but that's exactly how you get the kind of dogmas that have caused dissatisfaction with old world religions.

Ruhi is not given to us in the same way that the Sacred Writings are given, so it doesn't strike me as something eternal. I sense it is more temporal, with great purpose and function during this time of Entry by Troops, which I suspect is going to be our condition for a while. How Ruhi adapts to meet future challenges is somewhat up to us, but improper application can lead to it becoming dogmatic.

If Ruhi starts to deal with less practical problems, or if lessons used for example purposes are turned into idealized paths or examples, of if Ruhi becomes the standard manual for describing spiritual growth, or if it becomes an indicator for measuring one's worth, then it is a sign of it being dogmatic. I sense Ruhi is an effective methodology for communicating examples of practical spirituality, with the intent that people will find their own way to express faith and contribute to the improvement of the human condition. I sense it's a way to direct the course of many by identifying principles and best known methods so that people can learn how to include spirituality into how they deal with the practical problems of their daily lives. That said, problems are experienced and understood differently for different people based on their context (culture, geology, race, gender, nationality, etc.). It's impossible to have a codification that is universal in this manner. It has to be localized, and even then, focused more on the practical lives of the audience. In essence, if there isn't a means by which an individual can find a "genuine" way to express his understanding (either through words or deed) the lesson is simply rote.

I'm not suggesting that all expressions of faith must be unique. I'm sure many of us employ solutions to our lives' challenges that have similarities. What makes the expression genuine is something internal and private with God, a kind of certitude or conviction that you are doing the right thing, that you're not doing whatever it is that you're doing because somebody is standing over your shoulder ready to judge you. You're doing it for the right reason; you're doing it for the right motive. Motive can rarely be judged by anybody. At best, we can only judge the outward aspects of the deeds and outcome.

I believe with much conviction that Ruhi is spiritual in nature, but the creation of undesirable religious dogma often starts with a spiritual premise. If Ruhi becomes a platform for understanding more advanced or abstract concepts, it should do so because their is a practical need for it - that there exists a societal problem that necessitates such things, and even then, the lessons taught must be for example purposes. My personal belief is that advanced  or abstract concepts don't need examples. Once you understand the basics, the more esoteric things will make sense to the individual at an appropriate time.

What I hope to find in Ruhi is that the spirituality is not written on paper. It might be that spirituality is that thing experienced when what's learned is applied, or that "ah ha!" feeling associated with realization, but those are certainly not the only ways to experience spirituality. I sense, if applied correctly, Ruhi may be what is missing in many mystic traditions. I sense that it's a systematic grounding in the earthly human condition, in addition to being a teaching vehicle that can bind believers in dimensions not attained from typical fellowship.

For me, the litmus test for whether I like Ruhi is whether it empowers the individual to discover God by intentionally leaving the more abstract questions unanswered. For now, I believe that Ruhi needs to be optional. If it ever becomes mandatory, it will be a sign that we've achieved a greatness for mankind unseen in human history (e.g. the roteness of such elementary lessons will be necessary in dealing with greater problems of being on a wide scale), or it is a sign that we are to suffer the same fate as the old world religions. Mankind's hubris has a tendency of proving the latter, but assessing the future is a merely an intellectual exercise, with limited value... and well, we're bound to get another Manifestation at some point to correct any mistakes we may have made for ourselves.  But for the near future, I sense that uncoerced submission to this type of instutionalized teaching is an important goal. I sense the kind of fruit yielded from motives induced by coercion or judgment is going to be sour.

The human condition is dynamic, and the problems that we solve tomorrow will be replaced by aspects of our life today that we didn't realize were problems. Codification of methodology has a place for dealing with practical and temporal aspects of the human condition. Very few things of the human condition are eternal. If Ruhi becomes a go-to manual for "how to be a good or minimally good Baha'i", I sense it will become stale and dogmatic