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Abdu’l-Baha said that the material and the spiritual are closely linked. Have you ever seen something reflected in water so still that it seemed a perfect, upside-down duplicate but beyond the reflection were unfathomable depths? That is how I imagine the connection to be between this material world and spiritual existence.
Recently I’ve been thinking about this relationship, particularly as it relates to the Baha’i fund, where money is no longer just money.
When the House of Worship in Wilmette was being constructed, Shoghi Effendi said that the temple was being built with sacrifice. He wrote that giving to the Fund is…
…a practical and effective way whereby every believer can test the measure and character of his faith, and prove in deeds the intensity of his devotion and attachment to the Cause.Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p.87
The bills in our wallets, the coins lost in our couch cushions, and the sums in our bank accounts are more than currency, they are the means – through detachment and generosity – of spiritual growth. Money is no longer just money in our spiritual lives, nor is it just money as it relates to the advancement of civilization. Shoghi Effendi described the fund as a sacred obligation of every believer, as the “bedrock on which all other institutions must necessarily rest”, the “life-blood of these nascent institutions which you are labouring to erect” 1. He said:
…continuous support to these twin institutions [the National Fund and the National Assembly] is the corner-stone of all future achievements, the mainspring from which all future blessings will flow.Shoghi Effendi, Dawn of a New Day: Letters Addressed to the N.S.A. of India, p.13.
If prayer can be likened to the soul, then material means are like the body that put into action prayerful deeds for the betterment of the world. In other words, the equality of men and women, education for all, or the elimination of prejudice (to name but a few principles) are all put into place through the current framework for action, and these activities require monetary means for sustenance. For example, paper and pens are the stuff of study circles, the physical materials that allow participants to plan, reflect, and determine how they are going to contribute to the improvement of society. In this way, contributing to the Fund is directly contributing to the new world order.
What about donating money to other charities that serve the betterment of the world? As it relates to other aid agencies, the Guardian stated:
…every believer is free to follow the dictates of his own conscience as regards the manner in which he should spend his own money. Secondly, we must always bear in mind that there are so few Baha’is in the world, relative to the world’s population, and so many people in need, that even if all of us gave all we had, it would not alleviate more than an infinitesimal amount of suffering. This does not mean we must not help the needy, we should; but our contributions to the Faith are the surest way of lifting once and for all time the burden of hunger and misery from mankind, for it is only through the System of Baha’u’llah — Divine in origin — that the world can be gotten on its feet and want, fear, hunger, war, etc., be eliminated. Non-Baha’is cannot contribute to our work or do it for us; so really our first obligation is to support our own teaching work, as this will lead to the healing of the nations.Shoghi Effendi, Directives of the Guardian, p.15
This naturally leads into an important aspect of the Fund: only Baha’is may contribute to it.
At first, I thought this guideline was in effect to eliminate the possibility of any problems, conflicts or awkward encounters from arising – and this is partly true. However, the primary reason for this principle is that the services Baha’is offer are a gift to the world from the Blessed Beauty. Shoghi Effendi stated:
For apart from the consideration of embarrassing complications which the association of non-believers in the financing of institutions of a strictly Baha’i character may conceivably engender in the administration of the Baha’i community of the future, it should be remembered that these specific Baha’i institutions, which should be viewed in the light of Baha’u’llah’s gifts bestowed upon the world, can best function and most powerfully exert their influence in the world only if reared and maintained solely by the support of those who are fully conscious of, and are unreservedly submissive to, the claims inherent in the Revelation of Baha’u’llah.Baha’i Funds and Contributions, Shoghi Effendi, published in Compilation of Compilations, Volume 1, pages 529-550 (1991)
If friends of the Faith feel so moved that they want to give to the Cause, there are ways in which they can assist. A gift of time or resources to social action initiatives is always welcome. For example, a mother whose children participate in an outdoor neighbourhood class may offer her home as a place to meet when the weather is not hospitable. Or a youth, inspired by the transformative power of the junior youth program, may offer rides to those who need them in order to make it to their weekly sessions. A neighbour might be moved to bring refreshments to a devotional he attends. And all three of these individuals may, over time, offer to conduct the children’s classes, junior youth spiritual empowerment programs, and devotional gatherings themselves. The possibilities are endless.
I am struck by the openness of the Fund. Other than being a Baha’i in good standing, there are no guidelines to giving, and pressuring the friends to donate money is strictly forbidden. Free to follow the dictates of our hearts, we can live truly wealthy lives. Shoghi Effendi said:
We must be like the fountain or spring that is continually emptying itself of all that it has and is continually being refilled from an invisible source. To be continually giving out for the good of our fellows undeterred by fear of poverty and reliant on the unfailing bounty of the Source of all wealth and all good — this is the secret of right living.Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p.87
- Baha’i Funds and Contributions, Shoghi Effendi, published in Compilation of Compilations, Volume 1, pages 529-550 (1991
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