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Spirit of Faith

PRE-PUBLICATION EDITION
MATERIAL IN DEVELOPMENT

VERSION 1.3.1.PP
4 August 2009

Ruhi Institute
Copyright © 2005 by the Ruhi Foundation, Colombia.
All rights reserved. Version 1.3.1.PP August 2009

Ruhi Institute
Apartado Aéreo 6555
Cali, Colombia
Tel: 57 2 828-2599
Email: iruhi@bahai.org.co
Web site: www.ruhi.org
The Ruhi Institute is an educational institution functioning under the aegis of the
National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Colombia. Over the past few decades,
the Ruhi Institute has created educational materials that are being used by an
increasing number of countries the world over. The purpose of the materials is to
develop human resources who, through careful study, practice, and reflection, become
empowered to dedicate themselves to the spiritual, social, and cultural progress of
humanity. The materials, developed over an extended period, are created to address a
specific and apparent educational need, and evolve until such time as they clearly
enunciate the intended ideas and have shown to cultivate the anticipated capabilities.

Spirit of Faith can be considered as part of a formal educational program for junior
youth. Since its inception, the Ruhi Institute has placed special importance on youth
aged 12 to 15 and has sought to understand the dynamics of maintaining small groups
at the local level that provide a setting in which young people can discuss ideas and
form a strong moral identity. Spirit of Faith is one of the elements that has emerged
as a result of this experience, and it is hoped that those working with this age group
will find it useful in their efforts. It aims at helping junior youth learn more about the
purpose of their existence as spiritual beings in conjunction with the natural world
around them, and encourages them to think about the purpose of physical reality in a
spiritual and scientific way. We are happy to make it available to selected
organizations and agencies in its pre-publication form, as a companion to the three
units in development to prepare those interested in acting as animators of junior youth
groups. These three units will, together, become Book 5 in our main sequence of
courses for adults and older youth. You are welcome to send us your comments on
this small volume for junior youth.

Ruhi Institute
Spirit of Faith
LESSON 1

Ivan listened attentively to his parents’ conversation at breakfast. His father had just finished
reading the morning newspaper. “It is all about violence,” he was saying. “Why did things turn
out this way?” “It is because so many people have forgotten what it is to be human,” replied
Ivan’s mother. “I know what a human being is,” Ivan said to himself. But the thought lingered in
his mind: “How does one forget that?”

A few weeks before, Natalia Petrovna had approached Ivan and his friends, Boris and Elena, at
the end of a devotional meeting and encouraged them to form a junior youth group. She had
volunteered to act as their animator. The three friends had discussed the idea among themselves
and had decided to invite a few of their schoolmates to join them. These, in turn, had invited
others and now they had a group of twelve junior youth which met every week.

“I will ask Natalia Petrovna this question at our next meeting,” Ivan decided as he walked to
school that day.

Reflections:

How did your junior youth group begin?

What motivated each of you to join the group?

Tonight, the group is meeting at Elena’s home. The youth gradually arrive. Natalia eagerly
listens to their conversation as they chat with each other about what they have done during the
week. In a short span of time, the youth have grown so close to one another that they freely share
their ideas and put to the group questions that puzzle them. When everyone is there, they start the
gathering with prayers. Then Natalia asks if a thought provoking idea has crossed anyone’s mind
in the past week which might interest others. Ivan’s hand goes up immediately.

“My mother thinks a lot of people have forgotten what it is to be a human being. How can that
be?”

“How did you know the topic of today’s meeting?” asks Natalia with surprise in her voice. “I
have brought several quotations for us to study on the subject of our true identity, which is very
much related to Ivan’s question. But first tell me, how do people usually answer if you ask them
who they are?”

“They say their names,” says Marina.

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“They answer, I am a teacher, a scientist, a dancer,” says Nadya.

“I am the son of Boris Ivanovich” says Igor.

“I am white, I am black, I am Russian, I am Chinese, I am American, I am Indian, I am Iranian,”


it seems as if Boris is about to mention every country in the world.

“Thank you Boris,” says Natalia quickly. “All of these are possible answers. Now let us read a
quotation from the Writing of Baha’u’llah.” She takes out a card and gives it to Elena who reads
aloud:

O Son of Being! Thou are My lamp and My light is in thee.

“Who does Bahá’u’lláh tell us we are in this passage?” asks Natalia.

“God’s lamps,” says Elena.

“What does a lamp do?” asks Natalia.

“It gives off light,” says Olga.

“We, who are like God’s lamps then, should shine with the light of love, the light of knowledge,
the light of truth, the light of a good character,” says Natalia.

“But if someone asks me who I am, I cannot say I am a lamp of God,” says Boris to make them
laugh.

“Of course not. But right now we are thinking about our true identity: Who we were created by
God to be,” says Natalia.

Reflections:

The image of a lamp shedding light helps us think about who we really are. Let us consider the
nature of the light we have been created to shed.

In which of the following instances are we shining with the light of knowledge? When we are:

exploring nature
teaching the Faith
holding on to superstition
creating a work of art
spreading rumors
playing music
teaching prayers to children

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In which of the following instances are we shedding the light of love? When we are:

helping a friend in difficulty


helping estranged friends get back together
feeling hurt by someone’s criticism
smiling
speaking kindly
expecting love and attention from others
preferring others before ourselves

In which of the following instances are we shining with the light of a good character? When we
are:

being polite
being considerate
being dishonest
being joyful
being arrogant
being truthful
being self-centered

Natalia Petrovna selects another card and gives it to Vadik to read:

O Son of Man!
Thou art My dominion and My dominion perisheth not.

“Bahá’u’lláh tells us we are God’s dominion,” says Vadik.

“What is a dominion?” asks Igor.

“I think it is like a country with a king. The king rules over his kingdom,” says Katya. “We are
being told that we belong to God.”

“That is right. The kingdom Bahá’u’lláh mentions is not a piece of land,” says Natalia. “It is the
human heart. In fact He tells us: ‘All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except
the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory…’ Earthly dominion
does not last. Kingdoms rise and fall. But God’s dominion will never perish.”

Reflections:

We are God’s dominion. Just as a king could have enemies who would try to take over his
kingdom, our hearts may be attacked by desires and passions that are contrary to God’s Will.
Which of the following should you not allow to enter your heart if you want God to rule over it?

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Envy
Love for humanity
Jealousy
Hypocrisy
Greed
Compassion
Sympathy

Natalia Petrovna asks Vera to read another passage:

O ye Sons of Spirit!
Ye are My treasury, for in you I have treasured the pearls of My mysteries and the gems
of My knowledge.

“When I was little, I always dreamed of finding a treasure chest full of jewels,” says Anton.

“Well,” says Natalia. “According to Bahá’u’lláh, you yourself are a treasury that is filled with
the most valuable jewels. For example, think of all the powers God has given you: the power of
love, the power of understanding, the power of intellect. Maybe these are some of the pearls of
His mysteries.

Reflections:

We cannot fully comprehend the powers and abilities that are within us, but we can see their
results. For example, through the power of love, we can overcome hate, build friendships,
cooperate and achieve unity. Give examples of what we can achieve with the following powers
and abilities:

The power of imagination

The ability to serve humanity

The ability to discover the laws of the universe

The power of speech

The force of a good character

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The power of understanding

The power of memory

“In another passage, Bahá’u’lláh tells us that we are like young trees that He has planted with the
hand of Loving-kindness,” says Natalia Petrovna, and gives the quotation to Lida to read:

Ye are the saplings which the hand of Loving-kindness hath planted in the soil of mercy,
and which the showers of bounty have made to flourish.

“Saplings are baby trees,” Natalia continues. “The purpose of a tree is to bear fruit. Bahá’u’lláh
tells us ‘The fruits of the tree of man have ever been and are goodly deeds and a praiseworthy
character.’”

Reflections:

We are like young trees. The bounty of God is like the rain. Through the bounties of God we are
able to grow, flourish and give forth the fruits of goodly deeds and praiseworthy character.
Decide which of the following will attract the bounties of God.

Praying daily
Reading the Word of God
Teaching the Faith
Being lazy
Studying diligently
Working hard
Desiring to have things we don’t need
Imploring God for the ability to serve humanity

“Now, when you think of yourselves, what are some of the images that come to your mind?”
asks Natalia Petrovna.

“A lamp shedding the light of love, the light of knowledge and the light of a good character,”
says Elena.

“God’s dominion,” says Katya.

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“A treasury full of the pearls of God’s mysteries,” says Anton.

“And a tree that bears the fruits of goodly deeds,” says Lida.

Natalia Petrovna turns to Ivan. “What do you think now, Ivan? Is it possible for people to forget
what it is to be a human being?”

“I suppose, it is,” answers Ivan. “We forget who we are, when we forget God and His teachings.”

“You are absolutely right,” says Natalia Petrovna. “Bahá’u’lláh warns us against becoming
careless of all the wonderful qualities God has given us. He says: ‘O friends! Be not careless of
the virtues with which ye have been endowed, neither be neglectful of your high destiny.’”

She then asks them all to memorize these words of Bahá’u’lláh:

O friends! Be not careless of the virtues with which ye have been endowed, neither be
neglectful of your high destiny. Suffer not your labors to be wasted through the vain
imaginations which certain hearts have devised. Ye are the stars of the heaven of
understanding, the breeze that stirreth at the break of day, the soft-flowing waters upon
which must depend the very life of all men, the letters inscribed upon His sacred scroll.

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LESSON 2

During the week, Ivan keeps thinking about the words of Bahá’u’lláh. He looks at himself and
others in a new way. “We are God’s lamps,” he remembers, “we are God’s treasury.” But he still
has difficulty understanding why some people do such terrible things. “Why do they turn away
from God and His teachings?”

It is the next meeting of the group. After Katya and Anton have recited a prayer each, Natalia
Petrovna reminds everyone of the theme of the previous session. She then asks:

“We are God’s lamps. Where does our light come from?”

“It comes from God,” answers Marina.

“Yes. Love comes from God,” says Natalia. “Justice comes from God. Mercy, generosity, and
wisdom come from God. He is the source of all these qualities. Whichever way we turn, we see
signs of the power of God, of His knowledge and His bounty.”

“My children’s class teacher used to say that we should be as firm as rocks in our love for
Bahá’u’lláh. I guess rocks should remind us of strength and firmness,” says Igor.

“Yes, that’s true. And which of the signs of God do you see when you look at a towering
mountain?” asks Natalia.

“Firmness again?” asks Vera.

“Yes, but also power and majesty,” says Natalia.

“And my mother says that she is reminded of God’s generosity each time she sees the rain
pouring down from the clouds,” says Elena.

“Think of how the rays of the sun shine upon everything on earth,” says Natalia, “in the desert,
upon the sea, on the leaves and blossoms of the trees. The light of God also shines on every
created thing and is reflected in it. Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that ‘The world, indeed each existing
being, proclaims to us one of the names of God.’”

“I wonder which of the names of God is shining on me!” says Boris.

“All of them,” say Natalia Petrovna. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says that we are ‘the noblest of all beings, the
sum of all perfections.’”

“I like to be noble,” says Anton.

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“You are noble, Anton,” says Natalia,“but you must always remember that you have all the signs
of God in you. You should never forget this.” She then asks Lida to read:

Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou
wast created.

“What does ‘abase’ mean?” asks Lida.

“Think of a person who owns precious jewels but throws them away and collects pebbles,” says
Natalia Petrovna. “He is rich, but he makes himself poor. When we throw away the precious
qualities God has given us we abase ourselves.”

Reflections:

We have been created noble. Decide which of the following actions or conditions correspond to
our nobility and which of them will abase us. Mark them with an “N” or an “A” accordingly.

____ Using bad language ____ Telling lies

____ Breaking our promises ____ Being generous

____ Stealing ____ Seeking knowledge

____ Striving for excellence ____ Being humble

____ Fighting ____ Speaking to others with kindness

____ Being rude ____ Showing courtesy to others

____ Cheating ____ Being trustworthy

Ivan has been looking for an opportunity to ask his question: “But why do we abase ourselves?
Like, I can’t understand how some people can be so cruel. Where does so much cruelty come
from?”

“If good things come from God, then bad things must come from the devil,” says Vadik.

“There is no such thing as the devil. We can answer Ivan’s question if we think about the two
natures of the human being: the spiritual, or higher, and the material, or lower. Qualities such as
love, mercy, kindness, truthfulness, and justice belong to our higher nature. It is in this sense that
we say we have been created noble. Our material nature is the part that we have in common with

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animals. Imperfections like selfishness, cruelty, and jealousy come from it,” says Natalia
Petrovna.

“But we do lots of things like animals that are not bad,” says Vadik.

“Animals eat and sleep. We eat and sleep, too,” says Igor.

“Animals feel cold, hunger, and thirst, and we have the same feelings,” says Anton.

“Eating, sleeping, and feeling cold or hungry are not bad,” says Ivan.

“But animals can be so cruel. How would you like to be left alone somewhere with a bunch of
hungry wolves?” asks Nadya.

“How would you like to be stung by a poisonous snake?” asks Olga.

“Well, I can’t even stand a tiny mosquito buzzing in my ears,” says Boris with a laugh.

“There is no such thing as good or bad in the world of animals. Animals act according to their
instincts. They eat. They drink. They wander about and they sleep. They are captives of these
desires,” says Natalia. “The poisonous snake stings when it feels danger. The hungry wolf hunts
other animals in order to survive. It is not wrong for an animal to do any of these things. But we
abase ourselves when we live just like animals.” She asks Nadya to read these words of
Bahá’u’lláh:

All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty
beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues
that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all
the peoples and kindreds of the earth.

“So, you see Vadik we don’t abase ourselves because there is a devil that makes us do so, but
because we become captives to the desires of our lower nature.”

Reflections:

Acting according to our higher nature takes discipline. Decide, for each situation below, which
of the responses correspond to our higher nature:

A friend asks you to explain the answer to a question he finds difficult:

1. You don’t share the answer with him, because you don’t want him to do as well as you in
the exam.
2. You try to find out what he has difficulty understanding and patiently explain it to him.

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3. You find an excuse for not explaining, because you think he is not smart and you don’t
have the patience.

Your mother asks you to wash the dishes:

1. Despite being tired, you do as she says.


2. You ignore her request because you feel lazy.
3. You tell her that you are going to wash the dishes but you never get to it.

Although your parents know you will not drink alcohol, they still do not allow you to go to a
party where there is drinking:

1. You lie by saying that you are going somewhere else, but you go to the party.
2. You obey because you know your parents want what is best for you.
3. You sneak out of the house without anyone knowing and go to the party.

Your friend does something that annoys you:

1. You scream at her in order to show you are upset.


2. You tell her that she has annoyed you and that if she does it again you will not be her
friend anymore.
3. You realize that there are things about you that may annoy her, so you remind yourself of
her good qualities and show patience.

Your teacher has given you an assignment which you have to complete by a certain date:

1. You work hard to complete the assignment on time.


2. You don’t work on the assignment and tell your teacher that you were sick.
3. You copy the work of another student.

“If the devil does not exist,” asks Ivan, “is it our lower nature, then, that is evil?”

“No, our lower nature is not evil, “says Natalia Petrovna. “Take for example our desire for food;
from the very beginning of our existence, we had to look for food. Otherwise, we would not have
survived. So, the desire for food is not bad. But our higher nature should control it, so that we
don’t become greedy and want more and more, while other people are going hungry. Instead we
have to learn to share what we have with others.”

“What about anger; isn’t anger bad?” asks Elena.

“Anger has its usefulness too. Let me ask you something. How do you feel when you think about
what is happening to the many children in the world who are without food, shelter and
education? Can you remain calm?”

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“No. I cannot. I guess I feel angry, but I also feel sad.”

“Well, this anger is not bad; it will not allow you to become indifferent to the pain of others. Of
course, you have to watch yourself whenever you get angry about something. You shouldn’t lose
your temper, scream, or do some crazy thing, which in the end will bring more problems.”

“What about fear?” asks Lida. “I always fear that I may fail in the things I do.”

“Fear helped the primitive man to avoid the many dangers that surrounded him. He needed fear,
for without it he would not have survived. Even today, in many situations fear protects us from
danger. But through our higher nature, we learn to overcome our fears and develop courage. One
of the fears we need to overcome is the fear of failure. In fact, there are no failures, only mistakes
through which we learn. This way of looking at what we do will help us develop the courage to
learn from our mistakes,” says Natalia Petrovna.

Reflections:

Desires can be good or bad. Decide which of the following are acceptable:

The desire to gain more knowledge in order to feel superior to others


The desire to gain more knowledge in order to help the people of the world
The desire to become more compassionate
The desire to become more just
The desire to have more and more wealth for oneself
The desire to become more generous
The desire to share the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh with more and more people
The desire to be excellent in everything one does

“I am really confused. There is no devil. Our lower nature is not evil. Animals are not evil. Our
desires are not evil if we put them to good use. It sounds like we are saying everything is good.
But everything is not good,” says Igor.

Natalia Petrovna smiles, enjoying Igor’s reasoning. “There is a very important idea that we need
to understand,” she says. “God has not created evil. He has only created good. Evil is the absence
of good. Think of light and darkness. You know that there are particles of light called photons.
The rays of light are made of these photons. But there are no particles of darkness. Where there
is no light there is darkness. Ignorance, for example, is lack of knowledge. Hate appears when
there is no love. Pride is the absence of humility.”

The youth remain silent for a while. They are clearly convinced by what Natalia Petrovna has
explained.

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“How wonderful it is to know that God has created only good,” says Marina, finally breaking the
silence.

Reflections:

Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings help us improve ourselves. What do the following people need to learn
in order to behave correctly?

Someone who dislikes people of a different race and treats them unkindly

Parents who do not send their daughters to school

A man who drinks alcohol

Someone who is not chaste

Reflections:

We need to create good in order to fight evil. Darkness cannot be defeated with darkness. We
cannot end hate in the world if we ourselves feel hate. In order to overcome the darkness of evil,
we must reflect more intensely the attributes of God.

Discuss what you should do when you are in the following situations:

Someone ridicules you in school and calls you stupid.

A schoolmate tells you how easy it is to steal from a nearby store and encourages you to do so.

You feel envious of a friend who is often praised by the teacher.

You find out that a friend has been saying bad things about you behind your back.

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The discussion of this class comes to an end with Natalia Petrovna asking the youth to memorize
the following quotations and prayer.

I have perfected in every one of you My creation, so that the excellence of My handiwork
may be fully revealed unto men.

Love is light in whatsoever house it may shine and enmity is darkness in whatsoever
abode it dwell.

Therefore, you must thank God that He has bestowed upon you the blessing of life and
existence in the human kingdom. Strive diligently to acquire virtues befitting your degree
and station. Be as lights of the world which cannot be hid and which have no setting in
horizons of darkness.

The will and plan of God is that each individual member of humankind shall become
illumined like unto a lamp, radiant with all the destined virtues of humanity, leading his
fellow creatures out of natural darkness into the heavenly light.

Make me as a lamp shining throughout Thy lands that those in whose hearts the light of
Thy knowledge gloweth and the yearning for Thy love lingereth may be guided by its
radiance.

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LESSON 3

The group has come together for another meeting.

“I know two boys who finished primary school last year and entered secondary,” begins Natalia
Petrovna after prayers. “They are both intelligent and have been good friends ever since the first
grade. Unfortunately, there are many problems in their new school. Most of the students are
unruly. They fight. They lie to their parents, and hardly pay attention to their teachers. I don’t
want to say the names of the two boys, so let’s call them A and B. Only after a few months, A,
who used to be a very good student, is doing poorly in his studies. His behavior has also begun to
change. He gets into fights and has picked up the harmful habit of smoking. B has none of these
difficulties. He continues to be a good student, polite and caring. He keeps calm when some of
his schoolmates ridicule him. My question is this: Why do you think A and B are behaving so
differently?

“Maybe, A hangs out with the wrong guys,” says Boris.

“You guessed right. But why doesn’t B hang out with these same people?” asks Natalia.

“Because he knows what is good for him,” says Nadya.

“I don’t think A is a bad guy. He may also know what is good for him, but he is just too weak
and gives in to pressure from other kids,” says Katya.

“Good,” says Natalia. “I want you to learn a very important word: ‘volition.’ Volition is the
exercise of our will power to do things. Remember we said that God has given us the capacity to
reflect all His names. But we will not develop our qualities without the exercise of will.” She
then asks Anton to read a passage from Bahá’u’lláh’s writings:

All that which ye potentially possess can, however, be manifested only as result of your
own volition.

Reflection:

It does not take much effort to swim in a river in the direction of the current, but to swim
upstream is hard work. In the same way, it is easy to let things just happen, but to lead a noble
life requires enormous effort and energy and, therefore, volition. Decide in which of the
following we must exercise greater willpower:

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You are joining a marathon and you want to become fit:

1. You practice whenever you feel like it.


2. You practice rigorously everyday.

You want to obey the law of reciting the verses of God every morning and evening:

1. You say your prayers once in a while when you remember or if your parents ask you to.
2. You wake up early in the morning to recite the verses of God and set a special time aside
in the evening to do the same.

You want to assist with the children’s class in your community:

1. You often miss the class because you can’t wake up early in the morning.
2. Despite having difficulty in waking up early, you exert yourself and attend the class.

You are with a group of friends who are smoking. They insist that you should join them and
smoke:

1. You hesitate but finally accept a cigarette.


2. You politely refuse.

“Another important phrase you need to learn is ‘free will,’” says Natalia Petrovna. “It is through
the exercise of our free will that we decide to do good or bad; we decide to be kind or cold,
greedy or content, fair minded or prejudiced. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that if man wishes, ‘he can
pass his time in praising God, or he can be occupied with other thoughts. He can be an
enkindled light through the fire of the love of God, and a philanthropist loving the world, or he
can be a hater of mankind, and engrossed with material things. He can be just or cruel.’”

“But, when others are mean, isn’t it they who force us to be unkind to them?” asks Katya.

“Or when people makes us angry, aren’t they making us lose our temper?” continues Elena.

“Even then, we can decide not to lose our temper, just as we can decide to be kind to someone
who is mean to us,” says Natalia.

“Well, I can understand that we should be able to control what we do. But we cannot control
everything,” says Vadik.

“You are absolutely right. There are certain things such as sleep, aging, death, and sometimes
sickness over which we cannot exercise our free will,” says Natalia.

“I can decide not to sleep,” says Boris.

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“Yes, you can decide not to sleep, or sleep less. But how long can you last without sleeping? In
the end, you will have to sleep,” says Natalia.

“Aren’t some sicknesses the results of our eating habits?” asks Marina.

“Yes. In those cases, we are responsible for getting sick. But then there are times when we
cannot avoid sickness,” replies Natalia.

“Think about accidents. I could get hit by a car because the driver is careless,” says Igor.

“Now it is the driver who is responsible for your getting hurt,” says Marina.

“What do we do, then, when others use their free will to hurt us?” asks Ivan.

“I can’t even control my little brother when he misbehaves,” says Lida.

“We do not need to control others, but we can learn to influence them,” say Natalia Petrovna.

Reflections:

What we decide to do or not to do according to our free will has consequences. What are the
consequences of the following actions or inactions for you and for others?

Praying

Not praying

Teaching your friends about the Faith

Not teaching your friends about the Faith

Obeying your parents

Disobeying your parents

Returning the money you have borrowed from a friend

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Not returning it

Reflections:

We can influence others positively through our words and deeds. What would you do or say in
the following situations:

You discover that your younger sibling has lied.

Your friend is sad because he has no money to buy something he likes.

The students in your class keep throwing litter on the floor.

Someone in your junior youth group has hurt the feelings of another member.

“Let us see what we have understood up to now,” says Natalia Petrovna. “We have the free will
to do good or bad and we have to use our volition to lead a noble life. But to have free will does
not mean we can control everything. There are things that are bound to happen to us over which
we have little control. Now I want to ask you about another idea. What do you understand by the
word ‘fate?’”

“I think fate is something we cannot change no matter what,” says Igor.

“That sounds good. Can anyone give a few examples? ” asks Natalia.

“We do not choose our parents,” says Nadya.

“We cannot choose where we are born,” says Anton.

“My parents keep saying it is my fate to become a great pianist,” says Vadik.

“But you don’t have to. You can choose to become something else,” say Marina.

“That is right. Fate is not that simple,” says Natalia. “There is a good analogy that explains how
fate works. Has any of you ever seen how a carpet is woven?”

There is a blank look on everyone’s face, so Natalia continues: “Well, there is a frame. On this
frame, parallel strands of yarn are stretched tightly from one end to the other. The weaver uses a

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variety of yarns of different colors to weave through these strands and create a pattern. One of
the early believers heard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saying that we are like weavers. We have been given the
frame and the strands. We have also been given the yarns to weave with, which you could say
are all the talents and powers we are born with. This is our fate. But we choose the design that is
to be woven on the loom. We have freedom over our actions. Each action creates a small part of
the pattern. The complete work is who we grow up to be. Through free will and volition we
develop the powers and talents God has bestowed upon us.”

Reflections:

God has given us different capacities. Somebody may be good at biology, while someone else
may have a talent for music. But we all have been given what is necessary to develop as noble
beings. It is not correct, therefore, to blame fate for our shortcomings. When we do that, we stop
trying to improve ourselves. For each case below, select the thought that helps the individual to
change his or her situation:

Someone gets sick often because he usually eats unhealthy food. He thinks:

It is my fate to be weak and sickly.


I should stop making excuses and change my eating habits.

Someone does not study, so she performs poorly in her exams. She thinks:

I may not be the top student, but with diligence I will improve.
It is not my fate to succeed in school.

Someone gets drunk each time he faces a difficulty. When he is sober he thinks:

Life forces me to get drunk.


I can handle the problems in my life; I don’t need alcohol.

Someone is in the habit of criticizing her friends. So they avoid her. She thinks:

No one likes me.


I should stop criticizing and see the good in my friends.

Someone cheats on an exam and gets caught. He thinks:

This is my luck. Others cheat and never get caught.


How could I possibly do such a thing? I am supposed to be adorned with the robe of honesty.

“Are we saying that it is no one’s fate to become a criminal?” asks Ivan.

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“Of course not,” replies Natalia Petrovna. In the analogy I just used, every one can weave
beautiful patterns with the frame and the yarns they have been given. Though different, we all
have the capacity to grow up to be good.”

Ivan agrees with all that is being said. Yet, something is bothering him and he does not exactly
know what it is. Then, all of a sudden he hears himself saying: “But this is all too hard.”

No one quite understands what Ivan means.

“What is so hard?” asks Natalia.

“Making so much effort all the time to be strong, to be good,” answers Ivan.

“You are right Ivan,” says Natalia with a smile on her face. “But remember that God is aiding us
all the time. He never leaves us alone. It is like a sailing boat; the power to move comes from the
wind and not from the boat itself. But it is the captain who uses the wind to take the boat to its
destination. All power comes from God. Without His aid we are powerless. When we only look
at ourselves, all we see is weakness. But when we turn to God and implore His aid and
assistance, we find the strength to do what is pleasing to Him.

The group is then divided into pairs to memorize the following passages:

The incomparable Creator hath created all men from one same substance, and hath
exalted their reality above the rest of His creatures. Success or failure, gain or loss, must,
therefore, depend upon man’s own exertions. The more he striveth, the greater will be his
progress.

O my God! O my God! Thou seest me in my lowliness and weakness, occupied with the
greatest undertaking, determined to raise Thy word among the masses and to spread Thy
teachings among Thy peoples. How can I succeed unless Thou assist me with the breath
of the Holy Spirit, help me to triumph by the hosts of Thy glorious kingdom, and shower
upon me Thy confirmations, which alone can change a gnat into an eagle, a drop of
water into rivers and seas, and an atom into lights and suns? O my Lord! Assist me with
Thy triumphant and effective might, so that my tongue may utter Thy praises and
attributes among all people and my soul overflow with the wine of Thy love and
knowledge.

Thou art the Omnipotent and the Doer of whatsoever Thou willest.

My God, my Adored One, my King, my desire! What tongue can voice my thanks to Thee?
I was heedless, Thou didst awaken me. I had turned back from Thee, Thou didst

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graciously aid me to turn towards Thee. I was as one dead, Thou didst quicken me with
the water of life. I was withered, Thou didst revive me with the heavenly stream of Thine
utterance which hath flowed forth from the Pen of the All-Merciful.

O Divine Providence! All existence is begotten by Thy bounty; deprive it not of the waters
of Thy generosity, neither do Thou withhold it from the ocean of Thy mercy. I beseech
Thee to aid and assist me at all times and under all conditions, and seek from the heaven
of Thy grace Thine ancient favor. Thou art, in truth, the Lord of bounty, and the
Sovereign of the kingdom of eternity.

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LESSON 4

The youth have traveled several hours from the city of Ulan Ude through stretches of forest to a
campsite near Lake Baikal where they will spend the weekend. They have set up their tents,
cooked a delicious meal on open fire, and are now sitting around eating their dinner and
conversing leisurely.

“Let us sit quietly for a while,” says Natalia Petrovna once dinner is over, “and try to be aware of
the world around us. Listen to every sound and look in every direction.” Then, after some time,
she asks: “Can you say something about what you heard, saw, felt or thought?”

“I heard the sounds of the crickets,” says Boris.

“I felt the coolness of the breeze blowing from the lake,” says Nadya.

“I thought about how beautiful the moon is tonight,” says Marina, pointing to the full moon.

Igor is also looking at the sky: “I tried to find the brightest star.”

“The universe seemed so large and I felt so small,” comments Anton.

“Let me ask you something. Can the things you mentioned—the tiny cricket, the breeze, the
bright moon, the countless stars—do what you just did? Can they think? Do they know they
exist?” asks Natalia.

“No. None of them can think,” says Ivan.

“The moon does not know it is shining,” says Marina.

“The lake does not know that it has fish in it,” says Nadya.

“The crickets just make their sounds,” says Boris.

“The stars cannot know how huge they are,” says Anton.

“So, you see, Anton, you may be small compared to the universe, but God has given you a
special gift which no other creature has. God has given you the gift of the intellect and
understanding,” says Natalia, and hands to Vera a quotation, which she reads by the dim light of
the fire:

Intellect is, in truth, the most precious gift bestowed upon man by the Divine Bounty. Man
alone, among created beings, has this wonderful power.

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Reflections:

Make a list of ten things you do everyday.


1. 6.
2. 7.
3. 8.
4. 9.
5. 10.

For which do you use the power of intellect? How?

“I have another question,” continues Natalia Petrovna. “The sun, the wind, the earth, and the
other billions of things in nature, can any of them refuse to do what nature has set for them? Can
the sun decide not to give light? Can the wind decide not to blow? Can a plant decide not to grow
or a mosquito not to bite?”

“Of course not,” says Elena.

“But look at us,” says Natalia. “We use the laws of nature to free ourselves from the limitations
of the physical world. In the night we can have light because we understand the laws of
electricity. Nature did not give us wings, so we figure out how to fly in planes. Our eyes can only
see so far, but we make telescopes to look at distant planets. How do we do this?”

“We are curious. We ask questions and find answers,” says Marina.

“We discover how nature works by using our intellect,” adds Anton.

“True, it is the power of intellect that enables us to do all these things. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says that
God has placed within us a love for reality. If it were not for this love, humanity would have
made no discoveries. We would still be captives of nature, as primitive man was millions of
years ago,” says Natalia.

“But not everyone makes discoveries,” Igor points out. “I don’t think I can ever discover
anything as important as electricity.”

“Perhaps,” says Natalia. “But you are able to understand the laws of nature when someone
explains them to you, which is what scientists do. They figure out how nature works and then

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explain it to the rest of us. Once we learn the laws of nature, we apply them to our lives and in
this way we each contribute to the progress of humanity. So, you may not each make a great
scientific discovery, but you can learn from science and use its fruits. Science belongs to
humanity. It belongs to all of us.” She then asks Nadya to read:

Science is the first emanation from God toward man. All created beings embody the
potentiality of material perfection, but the power of intellectual investigation and
scientific acquisition is a higher virtue specialized to man alone. Other beings and
organisms are deprived of this potentiality and attainment. God has created or deposited
this love of reality in man.

Reflections

What are some of the things that humanity has had to figure out in order to do the following?

Read at night

See small creatures like bacteria

See far away stars

Travel faster and faster

Send messages to far away places

Talk to someone in another city

Natalia asks Lida and Vadik to read the quotation again so that the group can reflect well on its
meaning.

“I am sure I want to be a scientist. I am going to read every book there is about science,” says
Boris.

“Science is a very big field,” says Natalia. “There are many branches of it. No one can know all
of it. And besides, there is more to becoming a scientist than learning what others have
discovered. The most important thing is to develop those powers of the mind that a scientist
needs most. For example, you must develop the power of observation. Observation is different

25
from just looking at things. Our minds are not cameras that just take pictures of things. A
scientist is always asking questions: ‘What is happening here? How is it happening?’ To observe,
you use your physical eyes, but you also look with the eye of your mind.”

“How do we see with the eye of our mind?” asks Boris.

“Let me answer your question by telling you about something we all know today but what it took
humanity thousands of years to discover. For the longest time people believed that some living
organisms arose by themselves from things that were not alive. This idea is known as the
spontaneous generation of life. Think about a piece of meat, for example, that is left out to rot. If
you just watch it with your physical eyes, you will see that after a while maggots appear in the
meat. Since you would not be able to see where these maggots came from, you would have to
conclude that they somehow arise from decaying meat itself. The piece of meat is not alive, but
life seems to arise spontaneously from it. For centuries, people believed that this is what was
happening. Then, in the middle of the seventeenth century, an Italian doctor by the name of
Francesco Redi questioned this belief. He began to observe with a searching mind and reached
the conclusion that the maggots came from the eggs laid by flies on the rotting meat. He could
not see the eggs, so to find out whether he was right or wrong, he put pieces of meat into a
number of flasks, some of which were open to the air and others covered. The maggots appeared
only on the meat in the open flasks which flies could get into.”

“Mr. Redi must have been a great scientist. How come we have never heard of him before?” asks
Olga.

“Well, actually people did not give up the idea that life could arise through spontaneous
generation from non-living matter. Only after about two hundred years, did the experiments of a
French scientist convince everyone that life only came from life. You must have heard about
him.” Natalia looks at them expectantly.

“That was Louis Pasteur wasn’t it?” asks Boris.

“You are correct,” says Natalia. “I hope this example has shown you how much thinking goes
into a good observation.”

Reflections

If we observe carefully the events around us, we will see signs that give us clues about the
condition of individuals and groups of people. What signs would lead you to believe that you are
seeing a young person who is:

Courteous?

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Tolerant?

Wise?

What signs would lead you to believe that you are seeing a family that is united?

What signs would you observe in a society that is:

Just?

Harmonious?

Progressing?

“So, in order to become a scientist, I should learn to make a lot of observations,” concludes
Boris.

“Careful observations,” says Natalia Petrovna, “and clever experiments. You see, as you observe
nature and ask questions, ideas come to you. You think of some explanation as to how and why
things happen the way they do. In order to check your ideas you need to carry out experiments.
That is what Redi did. He didn’t just keep looking at rotting meat. He arranged things so that
some pieces of meat would be visited by flies and others would not.”

“Why didn’t people give up the idea of spontaneous generation of life after his experiment?”
asks Elena.

“Maybe because he only showed where maggots come from. All sorts of things appear on rotten
things out of nowhere,” says Boris.

“That sounds likely,” says Natalia. “When the microscope was invented some time later, people
learned about many very small living organisms they called microbes, and in many cases, it
looked like these were created spontaneously.”

“That is when good old Pasteur came along. Right?” asks Anton.

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“Well. Not yet. In 1745, an English clergyman had an interesting idea. Everyone knew that if
they boiled something, the microbes usually died. So he did another experiment. He boiled some
chicken broth and then let it cool in a closed flask. After some time, more microbes appeared.
He thought this proved there had been spontaneous generation of life.”

“Then came Pasteur,” says Igor.

“No,” says Natalia. “Some years later, an Italian priest thought microbes might have been in the
air left in the flask, which got into the broth after it was boiled. So he did the same experiment,
but he drew all the air out of the flask and sealed it. What do you think happened? This time, no
small living organisms showed up in the broth.”

“That should have finished the argument,” says Lida.

“Not really,” explains Natalia. “People said the microbes needed air to come to life and that was
the reason they hadn’t appeared.”

“It sounds like the argument could go on for ever and ever,” says Vera.

“No, because in 1859, young Louis Pasteur thought of a more clever experiment. He figured out
that the microbes in the air were probably carried by small particles like dust. So, he boiled broth
in a flask, and then heated the neck of the flask until it became soft enough to be bent into the
shape of an S. Air could actually reach the broth, but when it passed through the curve in the
neck of the flask, dust and other particles would settle there. To his delight, in this experiment,
no small organisms grew in the broth. When he tilted the flask so that the broth could touch the
particles collected in the neck, the broth became full of living organisms after a short while. So
in one experiment, he showed that life came from life, and that tiny living organisms were
everywhere and even floated in the air.”

Reflections:

Experiments are necessary in science in order to prove or disprove an idea. However, there are
many things related to our lives with which we cannot experiment. Discuss what would be the
consequences of the following:

Experimenting with alcohol and drugs to see how they make us feel

Behaving poorly towards a friend in order to test the friendship

Hurting an animal in order to see its reaction

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Lying to find out if we can get away with it

Experimenting with unchaste behavior

The evening conversation comes to an end. Before the youth go to their tents, Natalia Petrovna
informs them that the next morning, after dawn prayers and breakfast, they will go on a nature
walk and make careful observations. To end the lesson, they memorize the following quotations:

All blessings are divine in origin but none can be compared with this power of
intellectual investigation and research which is an eternal gift producing fruits of
unending delight. Man is ever partaking of these fruits. All other blessings are
temporary; this is an everlasting possession.

Therefore you should put forward your most earnest efforts toward the acquisition of
sciences and arts. The greater your attainment, the higher your standard in the divine
purpose. The man of science is perceiving and endowed with vision whereas he who is
ignorant and neglectful of this development is blind. The investigating mind is attentive,
alive; the mind callous and indifferent is deaf and dead.

Progress is of two kinds: material and spiritual. The former is attained through
observation of the surrounding existence and constitutes the foundation of civilization.
Spiritual progress is through the breaths of the Holy Spirit and is the awakening of the
conscious soul of man to perceive the reality of Divinity.

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LESSON 5

The members of the group are scattered along the shore of the lake, observing things, collecting
things, and taking notes. Elena spends most of the morning looking at the movement of a large
group of ants. After lunch, everyone reports on the activities of the morning. Natalia Petrovna,
notices that Elena knows a lot about ants from her studies at school, and asks her to speak to the
group on the subject.

“The body of an ant has three main parts: the head, the trunk, and the rear, which is called the
metasoma,” begins Elena with enthusiasm. “The head of an ant has jaws, eyes, and antennae.
The eyes are built of many lenses and can detect the tiniest movement. With its antennae, an ant
can smell, touch, taste, and hear. Ants communicate by touching each other with their antennae.
The trunk has six legs attached to it. The metasoma contains the stomach and the rectum. Many
species of ants have poison sacks and stingers at the end of the metasoma for defending
themselves.

Ants do not have lungs. Oxygen enters and carbon dioxide leaves through tiny holes that cover
their bodies. They have no blood vessels, either. The heart is a long tube that pumps colorless
blood from the head to the rear and then back to the head.

Ants have been living on earth for more than 100 million years and can be found almost
anywhere on the planet. They are social insects that live in colonies. Some colonies consist of
millions of ants. There are thousands of species of ants, each consisting of three types: the queen,
the sterile female worker, and the male. The male ants only serve one purpose, to mate with the
queen. Once the queen reaches adulthood and mates, she spends the rest of her life laying eggs.
A colony may have one queen or many, depending on the species.

Ants build different types of homes. Some species use small sticks mixed with dirt and sand to
make a small mound, and then tunnel as far as 15 feet down into the ground. Little by little, they
build many chambers connected by tunnels. The chambers are used for food storage, as
nurseries, and as resting places for the worker ants.”

Reflections

Ants are small creatures, but in groups they are able to accomplish great tasks. Their ability to
work in perfect harmony is built into them as an instinct. When they work together, they are not
conscious that they are cooperating. Human beings, on the other hand, can choose whether to
cooperate or not. When we cooperate, we bring well-being to all, and when we do not, our
progress slows down. God has created us to live and work in unity. We should develop the habits
and attitudes of those who build unity and harmony.

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Decide which of the following are such habits and attitudes:

___ Wholehearted acceptance of others


___ Selfishness
___ Willingness to work
___ Willingness to let go of one’s own likes and dislikes
___ Sensitivity to the needs of others
___ Pride
___ Jealousy and envy
___ Joy in the success of others
___ Fairness
___ Patience
___ Intolerance of mistakes
___ Desire to learn

“Ants seem to be well organized. Do they have an intellect?” inquires Olga.

“I doubt it, we already said animals act according to their instincts,” says Marina.

“When we talked about animal instinct, it was in relation to eating, sleeping and mating; it had
nothing to do with making colonies, communicating, and working together,” remarks Nadya.

“Instinct does not refer to simple things only,” says Natalia Petrovna. “It can be very complex.”

“But how did ants learn to do all these things?” asks Olga.

“The answer is evolution,” is Natalia’s response.

“Doesn’t evolution mean that we are all descendents of apes?” asks Boris.

“Not really. You see, scientists have carefully studied the diverse forms of life on earth and the
remains of living organisms from the past. They have gradually put the pieces together and have
come up with a very impressive theory called the theory of evolution. As we saw before, this is
what scientist do––they observe things, they ask questions, they do experiments, they look for
relationships among the various things they observe, they think of explanations, they share and
discuss their explanations with each other. All of this is done in order to create better and better
theories that tell us how certain things happen and why. No theory can explain everything, but
good theories help us understand a lot about the universe.”

The youth are a little lost after this long explanation. Ivan is quite excited about the ideas, but is
not sure if he understands what is being said. “Natalia Petrovna, that was a little over my head,”
he says timidly, in a voice that can hardly be heard.

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Natalia laughs. “Don’t worry. What I have said will become clear to you if I tell you a little more
about the theory of evolution.”

Reflections:

Explanations of science are not only about the physical universe. There are theories that try to
explain how human beings behave and how society works. Here are two theories about how
society should be organized. Some people believe that the best thing that can happen in a society
is for everyone to compete. In this way, they say, people achieve excellence and society
advances rapidly. Others believe that society should be built around cooperation. Competition,
they say, finally leads to injustice. It is only through cooperation that every one achieves
excellence and society moves forward. Which of these, do you think, is a better theory? To test
your answer, try to determine which of the following situations you would choose to be in:

A family in which the children constantly compete for the parents’ attention

A family the members of which pray and consult together often

A school in which the students are always trying to see who gets the best grade

A school in which the students joyfully study together and assist each other

A school from which only a few students graduate with high scores each year and the rest fail

A celebration at the end of a football game in which both teams participate

A terrible fight that has developed between the fans of two football teams after the game

A project agreed upon by the families resident in a neighborhood to plant trees in a public area
the tasks of which have been divided among the families

A neighborhood in which some buy expensive things to show off and others make spiteful
remarks about them

A school in the city attended by students who go to nearby villages to teach younger children
during their vacation

A school in which the students are so concerned with getting the highest grades that they do not
have time to volunteer for service projects

A community in which most families are well to do, except for a few who work hard yet cannot
afford to send their children to school

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A community in which all the families have agreed that no child should remain without
education, and which has set up an education fund to which each family contributes according to
its means

An outing that ends up in conflict because each of the children wants a bigger share of the money
their parents have given them to spend

A family in which the children are willing to share the gifts they receive from their parents

A city in which there are many flourishing small businesses attending to the needs of the
residents

A city in which most of the small businesses have no chance of survival, because a few big
companies are getting more and more customers by spending a lot of money on advertising

“As Elena told us, ants have lived on earth for millions of years,” continues Natalia Petrovna.
They always needed food, and they had to protect themselves against danger. Their instincts
helped them to survive, and each time something appeared in their environment that could harm
them, they developed some new characteristics so they could continue living. One of the things
they learned to do gradually over a long period of time was to organize themselves. According to
the theory of evolution, all living forms developed their present characteristics through a similar
process of gradual change. To the best of our knowledge today, life appeared on earth around 4
billions years ago in the form of single living cells. Then it took three billion years for groups of
cells to bond together and give rise to the first multi-celled organisms, some of which survived
and reproduced themselves. From these beginnings, the millions of species that exist today
evolved.”

“And when did human beings appear?” asks Marina.

“Well, it took a long time for anything to appear. It was only 600 million years ago that the first
hard bodied creatures with external skeletons emerged,” explains Natalia. “They were the
ancestors of clams, starfish, lobsters, and insects. Then, changes began to occur faster. In only
100 million years, some of these creatures developed an internal skeleton with a backbone.
About 450 million years ago the first fishes came into being. All that time living things had
existed only in water. Then life began on land. The plants came first. Then, about 350 million
years ago, one species of fish gradually left the water, which resulted, after several millions of
years, in the appearance of amphibians, the ancestors of the frog and the toad. Three hundred
million years ago reptiles appeared, and as their numbers grew, they gave rise to lizards, snakes,
turtles, crocodiles, dinosaurs, birds and the mammals. The first dinosaurs and mammals began
their existence some 200 million years ago. For about 130 million years, dinosaurs ruled the
earth and the mammals survived next to them. Then, all of a sudden, dinosaurs disappeared and
the mammals multiplied and evolved into the many species we know today––the mouse, the
horse, the dog, the cat, the cow and so on. Apes appeared 30 million years ago, and much later,

34
different human-like species evolved. Remains have been found of some of these species which
are more than four million years old. It seems like our kind has lived on earth for only 120,000
years. We are called Homo sapiens sapiens.”

She then reads the following statement from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

…the growth and development of all beings is gradual; this is the universal divine
organization and the natural system. The seed does not at once become a tree; the
embryo does not at once become a man; the mineral does not suddenly become a stone.
No, they grow and develop gradually and attain the limit of perfection.

Reflection:

1. According to the universal divine law all things grow and develop gradually. The seed does
not suddenly become a tree; first a small root and a shoot emerge, and then, gradually the
branches, leaves, blossoms and fruits appear. The mineral changes from one form to another
over a long period of time until it reaches its final state. It takes several months for the embryo
to develop limbs and organs in the womb of the mother. These are all examples of physical
change. There are other types of growth that also take time to occur. For example, our habits,
thoughts and attitudes change as we grow. Think about the way each of us develops. Can we
learn all there is to learn in a day? Can we acquire every praiseworthy quality overnight? If
change takes time, is it fair to be impatient with others when they are trying to learn and
develop? Patience, then, is one of the most important qualities we need as we do our best to
improve ourselves and contribute to progress in our communities. Which of the following
should we try to do in order to acquire patience?

Persevere in our efforts under difficult conditions


Give up with the first setback

Keep calm under difficult circumstances.


Get irritated in the face of difficulty.

Moan and complain when things are going against our wishes.
Be content with the Will of God.

Endure hardship when it is necessary to do so.


Avoid hardship at all costs.

Learn from mistakes in order to do better next time.


Not be tolerant of mistakes.

Expect change to come about quickly.


Know that lasting change requires consistent effort, care, humility, love and perseverance

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2. The following exercise will help you reflect further on how to show patience. In each
situation you need to decide what you would do:

The neighborhood in which you live is not very clean. You and your friends consult, make a
plan, and begin to clean a section of your neighborhood. However, a few days after cleaning
the area you find it full of litter again.

a. You and your friends decide that the people living in your neighborhood will never
learn to keep the place clean.

b. You decide to continue cleaning the neighborhood on a regular basis, feeling confident
that people will eventually change their habits.

Your younger sister’s leg is broken and you are taking care of her. She keeps asking you to do
things, sometimes, just because she wants attention:

a. You scold her for disturbing you and ask her to be quiet.

b. You read her a story and play her favorite game to cheer her up. Then you explain to
her that you need to do some work, find her something to do and tell her that you will
be back to check on her soon.

You are going to participate in a service project that is taking place in another region. Its
weather is too hot for you and the food tastes strange:

a. You decide to return home early, telling yourself that it is not necessary to leave one’s
home in order to serve; one can serve anywhere.

b. You try to learn how the people who live there deal with the heat and do not refuse to
eat the local food, even though it tastes different.

You are sharing the teachings of the Faith with a friend. He always likes your explanation and
seems to understand them, but asks the same questions the next time you meet:

a. You continue to answer his questions with kindness, knowing that to understand new
ideas will take time.

b. You stop discussing the principles of the Faith with him, because you feel he is not
smart enough to understand.

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Something happens and the friendship between the members of your junior youth group is
soured. You also feel a little hurt and don’t enjoy the meetings like you used to:

a. You decide to leave the group.

b. You try to forget and forgive. You also say prayers for the unity of your group. You
are convinced that overcoming this difficulty will bring the members of the group
closer together.

Your teacher has asked you to read an article and write a summary of it. You find the article
difficult. Each time you finish reading a page, you wish you could put the article down and
forget about the assignment:

a. You put the article down and tell yourself that you will get back to it later, but secretly
knowing it is unlikely that you will.

b. You read through it to the end quickly, even though you don’t understand everything.
As you read, you take notes writing down some of the ideas in your own words. You
then read it a second time to see if you understand better this time.

You and the other members of your group have decided to hold a weekly devotional meeting.
The attendance in the first few meetings has been small:

a. You decide that a devotional meeting is not a good idea, as people don’t seem to be
interested.

b. You consult with the other members of the group and decide to persevere. You will
invite many more people to the meetings and make sure that the devotional program is
attractive.

Natalia Petrovna then asks the youth to memorize the following quotations:

It behoveth whosoever hath set his face towards the Most Sublime Horizon to cleave
tenaciously unto the cord of patience, and to put his reliance in God, the Help in Peril,
the Unconstrained.

O SON OF MAN!
For everything there is a sign. The sign of love is fortitude under My decree and patience
under My trials.

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The steed of this Valley is patience; without patience the wayfarer on this journey will
reach nowhere and attain no goal. Nor should he ever be downhearted; if he strive for a
hundred thousand years and yet fail to behold the beauty of the Friend, he should not
falter

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LESSON 6

The discussion on the theme of evolution has been challenging and the youth are tired. They ask
Natalia Petrovna if they can go and collect some mushrooms while it is still bright. Natalia has
already taught them how to pick the ones that are not poisonous and gives them permission to go.
After they come back they have an early dinner, after which they continue their conversation.

“Natalia Petrovna,” asks Vadik “this afternoon you kept telling us about species appearing and
evolving; how does this happen?”

“There are explanations in the theory of evolution that are quite convincing,” responds Natalia.
“But let me first show you how changes can occur within one species by telling you about the
horse. The remains that have been found of the very first horses date back to over 55 million
years and it is clear that they didn’t look anything like horses today. In fact with their small
stature and short legs, they must have looked more like dogs. Initially, they lived in the woods
where they probably grazed on leaves and herbs, and escaped their predators by slipping through
openings in the forest vegetation. Over millions of years, the habitat of the horse changed to
grassland and the species evolved accordingly. As horses adapted to their new environment,
traveling long distances to escape predators became more important than maneuvering through
dense vegetation. As a result, the shorter limbs, smaller bodies and the shape of their feet—in
brief all those traits that gave them flexibility to move through forest vegetation—became less
and less useful. In each generation, those horses that had a little longer legs and the better-shaped
feet could survive more than others. These passed to their offspring the characteristics that were
giving them the advantage, and so, over millions of years, horses grew in size.”

“So in 55 million years human beings will be much bigger too,” suggests Boris half-jokingly.

“Not necessarily. A species changes its characteristics because it is advantageous to do so. The
changes in their limbs made horses capable of running very long distances at high speeds—
something they needed to survive. Also, early on, horses had four toes on their front feet and
three on their hind feet. Rather than hooves, these toes were encased in fleshy pads. By
examining the remains of the species from various periods, scientists have discovered that over
time the center toe became longer and the other toes smaller and smaller until they vanished and
a bony hoof developed. The horse’s teeth also changed to enable it to chew tough gritty
vegetation, such as grass. Even the shape of its skull changed, so that it could go on chewing
constantly.”

“Are you saying that all species have gone through an evolution like this?” asks Elena.

“Yes,” responds Natalia. “All organisms live in their particular habitats. In this habitat, they have
food and water and a certain degree of protection from danger. Under these conditions, they
reproduce and may increase their number. But in each generation, there are many differences
among the individual members. Look at our own species; people of the same age and sex have
different heights, different eye colors, limbs of different shapes and sizes and so on. And these

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are only outer characteristics. If we go all the way to the cells of our bodies, we see enormous
differences from one person to another. This makes some of us, for example, resistant to a given
disease, while others can catch it easily and die from it, unless, of course, medicine is able to
help them. These thousands of variations make individuals in each generation of a species more
or less fit for survival. The strongest have a greater chance to live and the weakest can die at a
younger age. Now, these characteristics pass from parents to their offspring through their genes.
So, from generation to generation, the number of individuals in the species who are better fit to
live in the habitat increases and the whole species gradually evolves.”

“But I still don’t understand how new species come into being,” says Katya. “The horse you
talked about was always a horse, it just changed its size and other characteristics.”

“That is true,” explains Natalia. “But occasionally, something drastic happens to some of the
genes and the resulting changes are more dramatic. To tell you the truth, I don’t know if
scientists understand all the details of this kind of change at the present. However, they do seem
to have a lot of useful explanations.”

Reflections:

Drastic changes in the evolution of life give rise to new species. In the life of society, too, there
are times when huge changes take place and new doors are opened to humanity. The greatest of
these changes occur when a Manifestation of God appears. After these great events, old ways
gradually die off and society begins a new life. Today, we live in one such great time during
which the principles of a new age are spreading throughout the world. Choose one of the
following principles and tell your group what you would do to establish it in your personal life
and in the life of your community.

Equality of men and women

Harmony of science and religion

Eradication of extremes of wealth and poverty

Oneness of religion

Universal education

The youth seem spellbound by the explanations given by Natalia Petrovna. There are expressions
of wonder and awe on their faces. After a lull, Igor asks: “Can you tell us more about how
human beings evolved?”

“That is not an easy question to answer. Our physical bodies, of course, evolved over a very,
very long time. But the human spirit was created by God from the beginning. It could not

40
manifest itself, however, until our bodies, especially our brains had evolved sufficiently. Think
of evolution as a tree and the human being as the fruit of the tree. The tree grows and from it
branches appear, each giving rise to new branches. Many, many branches actually die off after a
while, but others survive. As I mentioned before, one class of species that branched off from the
tree of evolution consisted of mammals. As the mammals evolved, they branched into many
species, and from one of these branches a number of human like species appeared. A very
important characteristic of these was that they walked on two legs freeing their hands for other
purposes. Human-like species evolved and gave rise to new ones. In the process, many important
changes occurred, the most important of which was the gradual growth of the size and capacity
of the brain and the ability to speak. As these physical capacities increased, a condition was
reached in which such powers as the intellect, the power of discovery, and free will could appear.
None of these powers have been seen in any vegetable or animal species; they are the
manifestations of the human spirit. Listen well to what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says about this:

Moreover, these members, these elements, this composition, which are found in the
organism of man, are an attraction and magnet for the spirit; it is certain that the spirit
will appear in it. So, a mirror which is clear will certainly attract the rays of the sun. It
will become luminous, and wonderful images will appear in it. That is to say, when these
existing elements are gathered together according to the natural order, and with perfect
strength, they become a magnet for the spirit, and the spirit will become manifest in them
with all its perfections.

In another passage, He says:

So also the formation of man in the matrix of the world was in the beginning like the
embryo; then gradually he made progress in perfection, and grew and developed until he
reached the state of maturity, when the mind and spirit became visible in the greatest
power. In the beginning of his formation the mind and spirit also existed, but they were
hidden; later they were manifested. In the womb of the world mind and spirit also existed
in the embryo, but they were concealed; afterward they appeared.

The group studies these two quotations and, with Natalia’s help, everyone tries to understand
their meaning. The evening has gone by rapidly. This is the last day of the camp and the youth
need to get up early the next morning.

Before they disperse, Anton asks: “Are we going to evolve more?”

“I don’t know what will happen to us physically in the thousands upon thousands of years to
come,” responds Natalia. “But one thing is for sure. We will evolve spiritually. The Guardian has
said that the distinguishing function of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh is to call into being a new
race of men. We will talk more about this tomorrow before we leave. She then gives them the
following quotations to memorize:

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Look at the world and ponder a while upon it. It unveileth the book of its own self before
thine eyes and revealeth that which the Pen of thy Lord, the Fashioner, the All-Informed,
hath inscribed therein. It will acquaint thee with that which is within it and upon it and
will give thee such clear explanations as to make thee independent of every eloquent
expounder.

O Son of Man!
Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love
for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee
My beauty.

Turn thy sight unto thyself that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty,
powerful and self subsisting.

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LESSON 7

The next morning, the youth wake up early. They wash in the facility nearby and then gather for
dawn prayers. As they each chant prayers from memory, the air is filled with the sweetness of
their voices.

It is Natalia Petrovna who breaks the silence that follows: “The sun has just risen and is
beginning to warm us. The sun gives us life. The prayers you just chanted open the doors for the
rays of the Sun of Truth to reach us and give life to our souls. Yesterday, we ended our
discussion of evolution by thinking about some statements of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on how the spirit of
man manifests itself in this world. In other passages ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that there are five
degrees of spirit: vegetable, animal, human, the spirit of Faith and the Holy Spirit, all of which
originate from God, the creator.”

“Do you mean to say that even vegetables and animals have spirits?” asks Elena.

“Spirit is a term that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has used to explain some very profound ideas. Think of any
species in the vegetable kingdom. It has certain powers that the mineral kingdom lacks. It can
take nutrients from its environment and grow. And its members can reproduce themselves so that
the species continues even though the individual plants die and perish. These are the powers of
the vegetable spirit. The animal spirit adds to these the power of the senses and of instinct. What
animals perceive through their senses together with their instincts leads them to behave in certain
ways but without thought and volition. Once an animal dies, of course, all these powers
disappear.”

“Does this mean that animals do not have an afterlife?” asks Igor.

“It does,” replies Natalia. “Once its physical body disintegrates, there is nothing left of the
animal to see, to hear, to smell, and to act. But it is different with the human spirit. The powers
that we possess belong not only to our bodies but also to our souls. We have all the powers of the
vegetable and animal species, but in addition, we can imagine, we can think, we can understand,
and have the gift of speech. These are all unique to the human spirit. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that:

This spirit has the power of discovery; it encompasses all things. All these wonderful
signs, these scientific discoveries, great enterprises and important historical events which
you know are due to it.

Reflections:

One of the powers we possess as human beings is that of consciousness. An animal may be
slightly aware of what goes on around it, but it is not conscious even of its own actions which are
completely guided by instinct. Not only are we aware of what happens in our surroundings but

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our consciousness reaches things far in the universe. We are also conscious of our own feelings
and thoughts, and of the consequences of our actions.

1. Complete the sentences below with one of the phrases from the list that follows:

a. When we are aware that unity is the cause of progress____________________________

__________________________________________________________________________

b. When we become aware of a mistake we have made ____________________________

__________________________________________________________________________

c. When we become aware that our soul will continue to live after physical death ________

__________________________________________________________________________

d. When we are aware of the shortness of our life in this world_______________________

__________________________________________________________________________

e. When we are aware that God has created all us from the same substance______________

__________________________________________________________________________

f. When we are aware of the feelings of our friends ________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________

g. When we are aware of God’s infinite mercy and compassion ______________________

__________________________________________________________________________

h. When we are aware of God’s justice __________________________________________

__________________________________________________________________________

we will prepare ourselves for the next world by developing spiritual qualities.
we will try not to repeat the same mistake in the future.
we will not become too attached to the pleasures of this world or too saddened by its
misfortunes.
we will strive to be kind and compassionate to all.
we will be considerate towards them.
we will strive to be just in all our dealing.
we will not exalt ourselves over anyone.
we will try to avoid conflict at all costs.

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2. One thing we should not be too conscious of is our “self.” Discuss in your group the
following:

What will happen to us if we keep thinking about our own shortcomings? Of things we cannot do
well? Of our own likes and dislikes?

What will happen to us if we keep thinking about how strong we are, how smart we are, how
good we are, how well we do things?

“So, it is the human spirit that makes us different from the rest of creation,” says Vera. “That is
why we can talk, we can think, we can study and learn.”

“Exactly,” agrees Natalia Petrovna. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that “mind is the power of the human
spirit. Spirit is the lamp; mind is the light which shines from the lamp. Spirit is the tree, and the
mind is the fruit. Mind is the perfection of the spirit, and is its essential quality, as the sun's rays
are the essential necessity of the sun.’”

“If the mind is the power of the human spirit, how is it that people use their minds to make
weapons and destroy lives?” asks Vadik.

“There are a lot of intelligent people who are mean, selfish and cruel,” adds Anton.

“There are a couple of students in my class who think they are very clever, because they can
cheat without getting caught,” says Nadya.

“It is true,” replies Natalia. “We can use the powers of the human spirit for good or bad. Our
mind, which is the most amazing gift God has given us, can be used for selfish purposes, for
wars, for the destruction of environment; or it can be used to solve the problems of humanity and
to advance peoples and societies. In other words, the power of our mind can be an instrument of
our higher or lower nature. Do you remember we discussed in one of our meetings our higher
and lower natures?”

“I remember we talked about how we can abase ourselves, even though we have been created
noble,” says Lida.

“Yes, that is why the human spirit has to be illumined by the spirit of faith,” concludes Natalia.
“This happens when we recognize the Manifestation of God and obey His teachings. It is only
then that the human spirit can be guided to develop its spiritual powers and use them for the
progress of civilization. Without the spirit of Faith, human beings can use their intellect and free
will to commit the most terrible acts.”

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Reflections

When our intellect is an instrument of our higher nature, its powers are focused on solving the
problems that millions of people face today, rather than concentrating only on personal gain. In
each of the following pair of possible goals, which would you consider worthier for the human
intellect to pursue?

__ Discovering cures for diseases that afflict humanity


__ Discovering techniques to keep people youthful looking from which an enormous amount of
money can be made

__ Finding ways to bring electricity and clean water to the areas of the world that lack them
__ Constructing huge high-rise buildings to sell at high price

__ Inventing newer and more sophisticated forms of entertainment for young people
__ Training thousands upon thousands of teachers for parts of the world with scarce educational
resources

Natalia Petrovna gives a copy of the following quotation to each of the youth and asks them to
read it and discuss its meaning:

The fourth degree of spirit is the heavenly spirit; it is the spirit of faith and the bounty of
God; it comes from the breath of the Holy Spirit, and by the divine power it becomes the
cause of eternal life. It is the power which makes the earthly man heavenly, and the
imperfect man perfect. It makes the impure to be pure, the silent eloquent; it purifies and
sanctifies those made captive by carnal desires; it makes the ignorant wise.

“Spirit of Faith is the power that makes the earthly man heavenly,” says Boris.

“And the imperfect man perfect,” says Katya.

“It makes the impure to be pure,” says Igor.

“And the silent eloquent, “say Marina.

“It purifies and sanctifies those made captive by carnal desires,” reads Vadik with some
difficulty.

“It makes the ignorant wise,” says Elena.

“What does it mean for an earthly man to become heavenly?” asks Natalia Petrovna.

“Well, it couldn’t mean that we become aliens from another planet,” says Boris humorously.

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“Or that we will develop wings,” continues Nadya with a laugh.

“But it can make a new race of men out of us,” explains Natalia. “Human spirit alone, no matter
how much we develop, cannot make of us anything more than an intelligent species. It is through
belief in God and His Manifestations that we become aware of our nobility, become convinced
that we are spiritual beings—God’s lamps, God’s dominion and His treasury, saplings which He
has planted with the hand of Loving kindness.”

“I know how the spirit of faith can make an ignorant person wise. Without the help of the spirit
of faith, even a person who is very intelligent and smart could do things to hurt others. Isn’t a
person like that ignorant?” asks Elena.

“Yes, the Spirit of Faith opens our eyes and gives us a special wisdom, the wisdom to see the
material and spiritual rewards that come from obeying God’s teachings and the sad consequences
of disobedience,” says Natalia Petrovna.

Reflections:

There is much misunderstanding about the meaning of wisdom and intelligence. For example,
some consider it smart to know how to commit an unlawful act without getting caught. Wisdom,
however, implies seeing the lasting joy that is the reward of pure deeds, even when they are
unpopular, and being aware of the consequences of wrongdoing. Which of the following do you
associate with a wise person?

Gaining knowledge and being fond of learning


Showing off what one knows
Pretending to know a lot
Having a pure heart without malice and envy
Being in competition with everyone
Assisting others to succeed
Knowing how to deceive people without them finding out
Taking responsibility for one’s mistakes and trying not to repeat them
Showing genuine kindness towards others
Showing kindness only when it is to one’s advantage
Showering others with flattery
Knowing how to control others
Being honest with people without hurting them
Being frank even if it offends people
Taking risks in order to have momentary excitement and pleasure
Fearing the consequences of disobedience to the laws of God
Listening to the advice of those with more experience
Listening to idle talk and being influenced by it
Reading the sacred Writings and trying to understand them

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Ivan, who has been quiet for the longest time, and has been listening attentively, suddenly asks,
“But not all people who do not believe in God are ignorant. One of my friends does not believe
in God, but he is a good person.”

“That is true,” answers Natalia Petrovna. “But you need to keep in mind that the teachings of
God influence everyone even those who may not believe in Him. So, for example, people know
today that justice is good and cruelty is bad, that it is praiseworthy to be truthful and it is beneath
the dignity of man to deceive. Where have they learned these things?”

“From the Manifestations of God? Even if they don’t recognize Him?” Vera looks doubtful.

“Yes, when a Manifestation of God appears, His teachings gradually transform society. ‘Abdu’l-
Bahá says: ‘if you reflect justly, you will see that these good actions of other men who do not
know God are also fundamentally caused by the teachings of God––that is to say, that the former
Prophets led men to perform these actions, explained their beauty to them, and declared their
splendid effects; then these teachings were diffused among men and reached them successively,
one after the other, and turned their hearts toward these perfections.’ Just think––it has taken
millions of years for life to evolve on earth, and after creating us through physical evolution, God
sent us His Manifestations from time to time to educate us. So, as a result of the influence of the
teachings of God, human thought and consciousness has gradually evolved and will continue to
do so.”

Reflections:

The Spirit of Faith can illumine the spirit of man to such an extent that it will dissipate the
darkness of superstition and prejudice from hearts and minds. Below are two examples of
prejudice and superstitious belief that the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh eradicate. Mention some other
examples of which you are aware:

a. Belief in the superiority of men over women

b. Belief in the power of a curse

c.

d.

e.

f.

g.

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Natalia Petrovna distributes the following passages among the youth and asks them to read the
quotes aloud and to help each other to memorize them.

… the human spirit, unless assisted by the spirit of faith, does not become acquainted
with the divine secrets and the heavenly realities.

This spirit of faith is the flame of reality, the life of humanity and the cause of eternal
illumination. It inspires man to attain the virtues and perfections of the divine world.

Wert thou to attain to but a dewdrop of the crystal waters of divine knowledge, thou
wouldst readily realize that true life is not the life of the flesh but the life of the spirit. For
the life of the flesh is common to both men and animals, whereas the life of the spirit is
possessed only by the pure in heart who have quaffed from the ocean of faith and
partaken of the fruit of certitude. This life knoweth no death, and this existence is
crowned by immortality.

The youth pack their tents and get prepared for leaving. They have a light lunch before getting on
the bus to go to back. As the bus passes by long stretches of forest, Ivan’s thoughts drift back to
the evening when he asked Natalia Petrovna the question: “How can we forget what it means be
a human being?” He goes over the themes they have covered in the last few meetings: nobility;
the two natures of the human being; free will; destiny; the power of the intellect; evolution; and
finally, the Spirit of Faith, which gives meaning to everything. He rests his forehead against the
glass of the window for a moment and closes his eyes. He feels his heart being drawn to
Bahá’u’lláh and wonders “How would I even know what it means to be a true human being
without His Teachings?”

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