Review

Community - more than the sum of its parts

Creating a New Mind: Reflections on the Individual, the Institutions and the Community
By Paul Lample
Palabra Publications
Riviera Beach, Florida, USA

The idea that we can transform the outer world by first changing our inner consciousness is a recurrent theme in many of the world's religious and spiritual traditions.

In Creating a New Mind, Paul Lample brings a fresh approach to this idea by considering what the Bahá'í sacred writings say about individual and collective transformation.

In the process, Mr. Lample undertakes a detailed consideration as to how the principles, teachings and administrative structures of the Bahá'í Faith could help create a new global civilization not only through the instrumentality of personal change but also through new institutions and principles that are capable of bringing fundamental change to communities as a whole.

"Human reality is bounded by the limits set in the mind," Mr. Lample writes. "Change in mind becomes change in deed and change in the world."

Mr. Lample, an educator who currently serves at the Bahá'í World Centre as director of the Faith's international-level Office of Social and Economic Development, begins with an analysis of the specific virtues or capabilities that the Bahá'í teachings prescribe for individuals who wish to surmount the obstacles that contemporary society places in the path of change. These virtues include humility, the desire to acquire knowledge, the responsibility to champion justice, selfless giving, and purity of motive.

Passages from the Bahá'í writings on each virtue are offered, and Mr. Lample's analysis shows how each plays an important role in overall social transformation.

For example, he finds the virtue of humility largely ignored in today's society, writing that the "desire to advance oneself over others as a motivating force in one's life is a defect of human character that, unfortunately, is being promoted by certain social theories as a praiseworthy trait. Aggression and unbridled competition are considered inherent in the human condition."

Mr. Lample believes that is a wrong view and suggests that a remedy can be found in the divine teachings, through which "the urge to indulge the self through dominance over others is subdued by spiritual competition to serve the well-being of all."

But it is in Mr. Lample's exploration of how the processes of transformation are aided by new administrative institutions and features of community life, unique to the Bahá'í Faith, that new ground is broken.

He begins by briefly outlining the distinctive manner in which Bahá'í local, national and international bodies are elected and the distinguishing features of their deliberative process. With no clergy - nor any nominations or campaigning - the Bahá'í system, he writes, "marks a revolutionary departure from previous religious practice."

"The freedom of individuals and the authority of institutions are simultaneously upheld," he writes, "while disunifying elements of authority, unbounded individualism, partisanship, and electioneering are muted or suppressed."

These features and others, he writes, enable Bahá'í institutions to provide a responsive and respected channel for systematic planning, encouragement, and guidance while at the same time allowing the full freedom of individual initiative that lies at the heart of social transformation.

In the book's final section, Mr. Lample describes the role of the community in building a new civilization.

"The Bahá'í teachings do not envision society in terms of a mere set of interactions among individuals and institutions," he writes. "Another entity, subtle in its constitution, plays an important role… This entity is the community, which…is more than the sum of its component parts."

He continues, the "various elements of the community work together in an organic whole in a manner comparable to the functioning of the human body."

Ideally, he writes, organic communities in this mode should be unified in thought and action, be built around concepts of devotion and service, provide fellowship and support for individuals, and seek to manifest excellence and distinction.

"The conscious effort of individuals and institutions to develop within the Bahá'í community the characteristics of organic life make it a rich environment that cultivates appropriate relationships, creates opportunities for fellowship and worship, guides individuals and families in the practice of Bahá'í ideals, and addresses social and material problems," Mr. Lample writes. "Such efforts expand and consolidate the community and channel the forces of collective transformation that will yield, in due course, the fruits of a new civilization."

Although Mr. Lample's book is clearly written for an audience familiar with the Bahá'í teachings and institutions, its message has deep relevance for anyone concerned with personal and social transformation.

Creating a New Mind can be ordered from Bahá'í Distribution Service via email at bds@usbnc.org or by calling toll free 800-999-9019, or by contacting the publisher at:

Palabra Publications 7369 Westport Place West Palm Beach, Florida 33404 USA tel: 1-561-845-1919 (voice) fax: 1-561-845-0126 email: palabrapub@aol.com

http:// www.palabrapublications.com

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