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Baha’i consultation – an essential tool for reaching an agreement or consensus and deciding a course of action – asks every participant to master a set of communication skills based on spirituality.
The Baha’i writings offer a treasury of insight and meaning on the complex subject of consultation – including this quotation from the writings of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith:
Consultation bestoweth greater awareness and transmuteth conjecture into certitude. It is a shining light which, in a dark world, leadeth the way and guideth. For everything there is and will continue to be a station of perfection and maturity. The maturity of the gift of understanding is made manifest through consultation.
Baha’i consultation is an acquired skill, so I try to visualize it in a way that I can understand. I imagine a filtration system where impurities come through the system and the water that carries them is filtered, cleansed, and purified. The outcome: something beautiful.
My metaphor for consultation oversimplifies the concept – entire books have been written on it, and many will be written about consultation’s vital toolkit for the progress of humanity. I’ll attempt to explain it briefly.
What Is Baha’i Consultation?
Baha’is use the tool of consultation to conduct discussion, discourse, and even administrative meetings. Essentially, it’s a decision-making tool that relies on seeking the views of many people rather than just one. Those who consult together, rather than simply expressing personal views, attempt to build a sense of fellowship, mutuality, love, harmony, and unity. Together they resolve to search out the truth by freely expressing their opinions, then weighing all the views dispassionately. Once an idea is put forth, it becomes the property of the group, not an individual’s. No one belittles the thoughts of anyone else.
The Baha’i teachings say that decisions made during consultation, with harmony, purity of motive, and love, will attract divine assistance and, in the words of Abdu’l-Baha, “causeth the living waters to flow in the meadows of man’s reality…”
But to my simple mind, consultation represents a unique filtration system, a spiritual filter for those “living waters” in which we bring all our strengths and weaknesses as input. When we consult, we enter the discussion from different backgrounds, with differing baggage, quirkiness, cultures, attitudes, and knowledge.
Of course, the ideas come from our different approaches, which, when first examined, rarely look like they match each other. Still, as the consultative process continues, just like a filtration system, the impurities get left behind. When that happens, people start seeing the validity in each other’s points of view, and discarding the inadequacies not related to that topic. If spiritual Baha’i consultation is done correctly, it becomes that unique filtration system that takes all impurities and harmful elements and makes the outcome pure.
However, the purity of this consultation and its result depends on the purity of motives and our approach to the task. We can do many things in order not to tax this system and hinder its efficiency, and to make the process efficient and easy. Preparation, both spiritually and materially, are essential for consultation to work.
I’ll suggest a few ideas that have made the consultative process more efficient for me – and have increased the purity of consultation’s filtration system:
1. Dealing with the ego – the “insistent self”
No matter how we succeed spiritually, intellectually, materially, in science, arts, sports, business or any other field, the greatest enemy within us presents a constant danger – our own ego.
It can manifest itself in the form of a gesture, a look, a word, or an action, but the result is often the same. Our egos are always with us, like a volcano ready to erupt. They need to be constantly supervised by our higher nature.
The Baha’i Faith has numerous teachings and writings to prepare us to face this daily test and handle it. The writings differentiate between our two selves: our animal, material or lower nature and our spiritual, divine or higher nature. In consultation, nothing can pollute the process of the discussion more than the lower nature’s ego – than its attachment to its own viewpoints, ideas, and preconceptions. When we work on our egos, and keep them in check with the oversight of our higher spiritual natures, our attachment to our opinions and ideas will gradually diminish. In his mystical book The Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah wrote “Loose thy soul from the prison of self.”
Consultation requires preparing spiritually by saying prayers and meditating before any discussion takes place. There are so many writings and books on its powers, effects and benefits. Abdu’l-Baha, the son and successor of Baha’u’llah, gave us the gist of it, when he said that prayer and meditation: “… creates spirituality, creates mindfulness and celestial feelings, begets new attractions of the Kingdom and engenders the susceptibilities of the higher intelligence.”
Knowing ourselves can produce many benefits, both material and spiritual. When we know why we do things, we understand our actions. Besides helping us manage our ego, self-knowledge can help us be aware of our strengths and weaknesses. Baha’u’llah wrote “True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his self.”
Love is the best lubricant for the practice of true consultation. Love is the link that connects us to God, to ourselves and others. Love makes its functions effortless. There is no end to love’s powers and usefulness. In a talk he gave in Paris, Abdu’l-Baha said: “… in the world of existence there is indeed no greater power than the power of love. When the heart of man is aglow with the flame of love, he is ready to sacrifice all – even his life.”
We sometimes misunderstand humility, thinking of it as a lack of determination, but really it is the freedom from pride and arrogance. True humility – an extension of self-awareness and self-knowledge – gives us a powerful way to connect with others and see our own opinions in the proper perspective. Baha’u’llah wrote “Humility exalteth man to the heaven of glory and power, whilst pride abaseth him to the depths of wretchedness and degradation.”
If consultation is understood and carried out effectively, then we can be confident that we cannot find a better filtration system for conducting our discussions. Baha’i consultation combines the best of human abilities and our spiritual values, all gifted to us by the Creator to solve the problems challenging humanity.