- Abdu’l-Baha was the eldest son of Baha’u’llah. When Abdu’l-Baha passed away on 28 November 1921, He was eulogized as One who led humanity to the “Way of Truth,” as a “pillar of peace” and the embodiment of “glory and greatness.”
In the Baha’i Faith, education is extremely important, and the Baha’i Writings explore and honour the noble station of the teacher, particularly in relation to the education of children. It is in this exchange between the learner and the teacher that education takes on meaning. It could be argued that teaching is one of the most noble undertakings of the soul. The opportunity to teach allows one to become intimately aware of how much a soul is affected by learning and to see the soul of another crave for knowledge and seek out beauty. A teacher bears the immense responsibility of enabling a human being, setting them on an eternal quest of inquiry into the nature of things. A teacher has this unique privilege and it must not be underestimated. It is the sacred charge of this profession:
The education and training of children is among the most meritorious acts of humankind and draweth down the grace and favor of the All-Merciful, for education is the indispensable foundation of all human excellence and alloweth man to work his way to the heights of abiding glory.‘Abdu’l-Baha 1
This education, however, is not only in the learning of languages, sciences and arts, as magnificent and uplifting as this knowledge is to the intellectual and cultural tapestry of our world. These are complementary forms of education and find their greatest merit when coupled with the foundation of all educational undertakings: moral education.
Abdu’l-Baha states clearly that:
Divine Education is that of the kingdom of God: consists in acquiring divine perfection, and this is true education; for in this state man becomes the focus of divine blessings, the manifestation of the words, ‘let us make man in our image, and after our likeness.’ This is the goal of the world of humanity.‘Abdu’l-Baha 2
Baha’u’llah states that we should:
Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.Baha’u’llah 3
This adds another dimension to how teachers should approach their role and their actions towards their pupils. This changes the prevalent view of the student as a cup needing to be filled with knowledge, to a notion of a mine filled with gems that needs to be exploited not for selfish ends but for the progress of all.
A teacher then aims to instill in a child a strong moral identity that is pinned to the desire to become an upright, noble human who seeks to contribute to the betterment of the world. This view also encourages the teacher to continually seek after their own gems while at the same time contributing to the bounty of accompanying children towards the discovery of their own unique endowments. The teacher has to come to the deep realisation of the Universal House of Justice that:
[…] proper education can help children to broaden their horizons and set their sights on the advancement and glory of their nation. And when their breadth of vision expands even wider, they will undoubtedly come to see the progress of the entire human race and the furtherance of the true interests of all the peoples of the world as a guiding purpose of their lives.The Universal House of Justice 4
Abdu’l-Baha tells us:
Be thou a teacher of love, in a school of unity. Train thou the children of the friends of the Merciful in the rules and ways of His loving-kindness. Tend the young trees of the Abha Paradise with the welling waters of His grace and peace and joy. Make them to flourish under the downpour of His bounty. Strive with all thy powers that the children may stand out and grow fresh, delicate, and sweet, like the ideal trees in the gardens of Heaven.
All these gifts and bounties depend upon love for the Beauty of the All-Glorious, and on the blessings in the teachings of the Most High, and the spiritual instructions of the Supreme Concourse, and on ecstasy and ardour and diligent pursuit of whatsoever will redound to the eternal honour of the community of man.‘Abdu’l-Baha 5
Towards this end, Baha’is over the past 20 years have systematically engaged in better equipping people around the world to become community-teachers through teacher training material prepared and shared by the Ruhi Institute. This has been developed into a specific branch course of the Institute with curriculum being developed for primary school aged children. At present, there is pre-publication material available for grades 1, 2 and 3 and over the coming years it will continue to incorporate curriculum material for grades 4, 5 and 6.
As people start to engage in this material they start to develop an understanding of the principles of Baha’i Education, how to conduct a class and some essential classroom management practices. An exploration of lessons is also undertaken to familiarise teachers with the content. What is once again apparent throughout this material is the implicit notion and conviction that true education, the divine, spiritual education of a human being must be at the forefront of every educational endeavour and that all, regardless of creed, class or colour, must have the opportunity to partake in these gifts.
With this in mind, a person who takes the plunge into teaching suddenly comes to realise the immense joy that can be generated from the educational encounter. They start to realise the energising effect on their own soul and the challenge of engaging with these most amazing little humans. The teacher starts longing for the next opportunity to be with these children, souls that had a curiosity and energy that was at once unsullied yet required the prompting of great teaching.
The question then becomes, how does one maintain this noble station? What does it mean to be working towards that unknown undefinable qualities of a Baha’i teacher? How do we discover the untold blessings, the privilege of being a member of the ancient practice of teaching children to live with nobility and to be active members of their community, promoted by the highest motives of contribution to the greater good? The Master states:
Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children, young plants of the Abha Paradise, so that these children, fostered by grace in the way of salvation, growing like pearls of divine bounty in the shell of education, will one day bejewel the crown of abiding glory.
It is, however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it. I hope that thou wilt acquit thyself well in this most important of tasks, and successfully carry the day, and become an ensign of God’s abounding grace; that these children, reared one and all in the holy Teachings, will develop natures like unto the sweet airs that blow across the gardens of the All-Glorious, and will waft their fragrance around the world.‘Abdu’l-Baha 6
This article has only just touched the surface, made a small ripple in a limitless ocean, only faintly grasped the magnitude of the never-ending desert of practice and only imagined the oasis, the mirage of true understanding.
- Abdu’l-Baha, A Compilation on Baha’i Education, p. 22
- Ibid. p. 10
- Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 261
- Universal House of Justice, letter dated 24 November 2
- Abdu’l-Baha, Compilation on Baha’i Education, p. 24 – 25
- Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 133-34
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