Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Baha'i Principle, Now and Then

Baha'i Principle

By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 19, 16 Qudrat 165 BE



The First TEDster
Principle Retrospective


The First TEDster


Abdu'l-Baha, The First TEDster

Over the last couple of years we netizens have been inspired by the short talks, all less than twenty minutes in length, that are now freely available for all to watch at the TED Website. The startling (and especially annoying when you are watching late at night) introductory TED theme riff is now familiar to millions. I have watched TED presentation videos regularly but now that I have a MIRO Vodcast, I look forward with tingly anticipation to the release every week of a new TED talk or two, left over from the previous year's conference.

I just picked up a DVD documentary film on TED, called: "The Future We Will Create, Inside the World of TED," at the Hamilton Public Library. It gives more background on the TED conference's history and recent development into a Web phenomenon, as well as offering some sample talks for those without a fast Internet connection.

Since the 1980's TED has been an elite get-together of only about a thousand invited attendees who watch certain brilliant leaders of thought and other innovators give brief summaries of their work. The talks not only inform but also inspire conference attendees, known as TEDsters, and now the entire Internet, to make changes that make a difference. The overall result for even a casual viewer, somebody points out in the DVD documentary, is to act as an antidote to the depressing view of the world given by the stream of bad news that we get from the media.

At least one school or university in Toronto, it was recently reported in the Globe and Mail, is borrowing from the TED format for its commencement address. Instead of one boring speaker going on and on about the same old thing for an hour or so, they offer several brilliant presenters talking about their work one after the next. The effect on new students, reportedly, is electric. Like at TED, each speaker gives a brief twenty minute summary of what they are doing and what they suggest we can do to change the world.

After watching the documentary on TED last night with my son Tomaso, I woke in the middle of the night with the realization that Abdu'l-Baha was the first TEDster. Eureka! It is true. I have been inspired all my life by just reading the text of His talks. When I first came across them at the tender age of 17, they turned me from a confirmed atheist into an enthusiastic Baha'i. Imagine what it must have been like to hear Him speak in person!

It was an inspiring background He came from. Just released from forty years of exile and prison for His beliefs, the Master spoke not as an idle theorist but as someone Who lived his beliefs. He created a sensation as, in 1911 to 1913, He travelled to London, Paris, New York and other cities giving addresses both informative and inspiring on the grounds of a stable world peace. So ravished were His listeners that He was flooded with invitations to speak at churches, clubs and other organizations. He was able to accept only a tiny percentage of these offers in the short time allotted to Him.

These travels and disquisitions generated a great deal of publicity and, similar to TED, had a subtle, uplifting influence on elite opinion. They made people optimistic about our prospects for a better world. It is unlikely, for instance, that Woodrow Wilson would have come up with his fourteen point peace program if Abdu'l-Baha had not already spread the twelve Baha'i principles across America some seven years before.

In the talks Abdu'l-Baha gave on this journey, He set forth something new under the sun: a new, holistic methodology for change on a planetary -- and at the same time personal -- level. I believe that the revolutionary value of principle is underappreciated, even among the most enthusiastic Baha'is. The Baha'i principles are designed to inspire and organize just the sort of Ad Hoc, peaceful change that the TED conference is aiming at.

In fact, the principles proposed by the Master are the only viable alternative to ideology. The century since He spoke has seen the rise and fall of two vicious materialist ideologies, first communism and, most recently, market fundamentalist capitalism. Now that it is crashing, and along with it the world economy, principle is the only possibility left.

This shows that, in spirit, Abdu'l-Baha was the first TEDster. Properly taught and adapted for general consumption, His principles could become an educational framework for peaceful reform, for a permanent end to war and the addiction to weaponry that is crushing the economy to the breaking point. They can transform large numbers of people without the violence or arbitrary measures that superficial, materialist, political revolutionaries have always had to resort to in the past.

My friend Peter Gardner and I are working on a web video presentation on the principles. We want to design it to resemble the short-but-sweet, less-than-twenty-minute format of a TED talk. We have been using as our model one of the first public presentations of the principles given as a body ever given, the address Abdu'l-Baha gave to the Theosophists in Paris. Peter has read them already, and this series of essays on that talk will provide the background and introduction to the bare bones the Master gave. All in less than a third of an hour. As the TED presenters all say, it is a tremendous challenge to sum up your life's work that way, but it also is good discipline and gives great rewards for understanding just where you want to go with it all.


Principle Retrospective


The Principles as Principles; A Retrospective of Essays on this Blog

Over the past few months on this Badi' Blog I periodically have returned to my life's work, the Baha'i principles. First, in September I talked about the principles, especially the spiritual principles insofar as they are part of the Baha'i Faith, in an essay called "The Baha'i Principles Qua Baha'i," at:

Here I discerned four wholly spiritual principles that were emphasized by the Master in talks to Western audiences. The first was the Oneness of God, the second, the Power of the Holy Spirit, the third, Love, and fourth, Covenant.

Then in a piece written on the 9th of October called, "Principle, the Magnet of Polity," ( I discussed how principle, and each specific principle, be it spiritual or social, is an outcome in its own way of the great meta-principle, the Oneness of God. Understanding Oneness as a principle sets up an almost magnetic pull towards polity, a term that can be defined as governance in the interest of the entirety, combined at the same time with service by each equal individual to the whole. Polity is, to express it in a motto, "all for one, and one for all." More about polity soon in this series.

Having given a nod to spiritual principle and principle as inherent to Baha'i, we proceeded in October to the social principles as the Master laid them out in France almost a century ago. After outlining them briefly, Abdu'l-Baha emphasized that the principles are no mere platform or list of beliefs; they are tools for seekers and lovers of truth.

"In short, it behoves us all to be lovers of truth. Let us seek her in every season and in every country, being careful never to attach ourselves to personalities. Let us see the light wherever it shines, and may we be enabled to recognize the light of truth no matter where it may arise. Let us inhale the perfume of the rose from the midst of thorns which surround it; let us drink the running water from every pure spring."

Principle, then, is not to be compared to ideology; it is in fact the replacement of ideological systems, which are inherently imitative, violent and patriarchal.

In "Paris Printalk; BPS I" and "BPS II" I discussed the first two principles mentioned in this talk, the oneness of humanity (all for one) and search for truth (one for all) respectively. The first essay is at:

In it I talked about the Master's "one sun, many dawning points thesis," the background from which He derives the principles in this talk. I brought in Plato's famous parable of the den or cave as a way to understand search for truth.

The second BPS essay, subtitled, "More on our oneness in equality," I speculated on the possibility that the Master's emphasis on equality in this and subsequent talks may have been influenced by where He was at the time, that is, Paris, city of lights, artistic and cultural center of the West. Tentatively, I went into how He may have been speaking to certain liberal Enlightenment traditions conditioning the intellectual reflexes of the Parisians He was addressing. This essay is at:

In a series of subsequent blog postings I pointed to several video renditions of Plato's cave parable available on YouTube. An example is:

John Taylor



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear John -- This is such an inspiring essay! I can't wait to see the your video presentation of Abdu'l-Baha's principles ... btw- I've also enjoyed watching TED videos and presentations and have learned from them.