honour their sacrifice—by pulling out the roots of war

honour the sacrifice, not the war, November 12, 2012

RespectsJust a few days ago, I shared a few thoughts about how thoughts of love, expressed through action, can overcome even the longest history of hatred. We always have choices in life: These choices determine whether we create hatred or love, war or peace, despair or hope. If we choose to act in ways that create love, peace, and hope, then we will create a loving, peaceful, and hopeful environment, which will foster cooperation, harmony and well-being. Conversely, if we choose to act in ways that create hatred, war, and despair, then we will create an environment of hatred, war and despair, which will lead to tyranny, oppression, death, and wanton destruction.

War is no joke. For those of us who’ve never been involved in fighting a war, war is literally hell on earth. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá called war “a satanic institution” and “the destroyer of human foundations”:

Peace is light, whereas war is darkness. Peace is life; war is death. Peace is guidance; war is error. Peace is the foundation of God; war is a satanic institution. Peace is the illumination of the world of humanity; war is the destroyer of human foundations.

This discourse of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s, which can be found in its entirety in the book Bahá’í World Faith, presents a logical argument on the nature of peace and war, using an analogy to the natural world: A state of “peace” allows the elements of existence to attract and combine with each other in an orderly fashion, to form an infinite variety of created things. A state of conflict, or “war”, on the other hand, in which elements repel and dissociate from each other, leads to the decay and destruction of these created things. So it is with the human world, in which war leads to the destruction of people, families, institutions, communities, and society—not to mention cities and nations:

When we consider outcomes in the world of existence, we find that peace and fellowship are factors of upbuilding and betterment, whereas war and strife are the causes of destruction and disintegration… Consider the restlessness and agitation of the human world today because of war. Peace is health and construction; war is disease and dissolution. When the banner of truth is raised, peace becomes the cause of the welfare and advancement of the human world. In all cycles and ages war has been a factor of derangement and discomfort, whereas peace and brotherhood have brought security and consideration of human interests.

This distinction is especially pronounced in the present world conditions, for warfare in former centuries had not attained the degree of savagery and destructiveness which now characterizes it. If two nations were at war in olden times, ten or twenty thousand would be sacrificed, but in this century the destruction of one hundred thousand lives in a day is quite possible. So perfected has the science of killing become and so efficient the means and instruments of its accomplishment that a whole nation can be obliterated in a short time. Therefore, comparison with the methods and results of ancient warfare is out of the question.

Recent human history is stained with the “savagery and destructiveness” that is part and parcel of war. The Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge. The Armenian genocide. The Rwandan genocide. The Trail of TearsSrebrenica. NankingAuschwitz. DresdenVerdunThe SommeLeningrad. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Korea. VietnamSyria. YemenThe list goes on, and on, and on. On days such as today—Remembrance Day in Canada, Armistice Day elsewhere in the world—people everywhere observe moments of silence to remember the victims of the atrocities of war. And yet, the “satanic institution” of war, the “destroyer of human foundations” continues. Why? Why do we continue to choose war, to choose hatred, to choose despair?

Humanity still resists the spiritual transformation to which it is called in this day. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says, we have perfected the science of killing and brought it to its zenith. Humanity has reached the consummation of its material powers. Material means can bring us no further in the evolution of our species. What is needed now is spiritual evolution. We must learn how to choose peace, how to choose love, and how to choose hope.

Red Khmer Killing FieldsIt is not enough to remember our fallen soldiers on Remembrance Day, or the victims of war or the many atrocities that war produces. Yes, we must stare down the rows of gravestones and piled-up skulls, and pray for the progress of the souls who have passed onwards in their journey through the spiritual worlds. But we, the living, must resolve to honour their sacrifice by changing the way we live, and by teaching our children the skills and the virtues they need to make peace a permanent reality.

To show kindness, compassion, and a burning love that embraces all of humanity. To resolve their conflicts through words rather than blows. To act with trustworthiness and justice, and always deal fairly with their fellows. To know that they, and all their peers, are noble creatures of God deserving of respect. To hold the human spirit, and everything which God has placed on this green earth, as a sacred trust, and to guard that trust for future generations. These virtues are spiritual skills that do not develop without effort: We must acquire them through education and conscious practice.

Only when each one of us becomes fully involved in teaching these skills to the rising generations will this world become another world. Ensuring that everyone has the chance to acquire these skills will pull out the roots that feed the curse and scourge of war—allowing it, finally, to be blotted out from the book of humanity.

The original post, honour the sacrifice, not the war, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Photos: Respects by Mitchell Shapiro Photography, and Red Khmer Killing Fields by Ann-Kathrin.

heaven, hell, and why all paths are good

Today, I thought I’d share something that I wrote as an answer to a question on the Bahá’í AMA that a few of us from Reddit’s Baha’i group hosted on /r/religion last year. The question was: “Why do [Bahá’ís] believe that there is no Heaven or Hell and believe that other religious groups are acceptable to follow?

“Heaven” and “hell”, for Bahá’ís, refer to states of nearness to and distance from God, respectively. So when you’re living your life in a way that is in line with divine teachings, you’re in heaven.

Let’s give a few specifics here about the nature of the soul. Bahá’u’lláh teaches that human beings have a material self (the body) and a spiritual self (the soul). The body acts as a sort of vehicle that allows us to develop our souls throughout our time in the material world, before progressing into purely spiritual worlds at the time of physical death. And although the exact state of the soul after we die is unknowable for us at this time, Bahá’u’lláh does state that our souls live on eternally and continue on their journey through the spiritual worlds. Notably, He states that we retain our consciousness after physical death, we are able to recognize the souls of those who we were close to, and so on.

If, throughout our life in this physical world, our souls have grown in their ability to show forth spiritual qualities such as selflessness, love, justice, generosity, kindness, truthfulness, trustworthiness, wisdom, and service, we will be close to God, and we will experience that as a “heaven” of joy, gratitude and gladness. If, on the other hand, we spent our lives showing selfishness, hatred, enmity, injustice, avarice, deceit, and so forth, we will find ourselves far from God, and we will experience that as a “hell” of regret and sorrow.

Hopefully that answers the first part of the question. As for the second part, here’s my take.

Golden ruleFirst off, Baha’is believe that there really is just one religion—the “changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future”, which has been revealed progressively throughout history to different peoples and nations, as that same God manifested Himself to them. The differences between all of the world’s great religions, then, are simply a matter of differences in context: The religion of God was revealed to them in a way that was best suited for them in that place and at that time. Bahá’u’lláh does say that there will be further Manifestations of God in the future, so the Bahá’í Faith isn’t the end of the line. We refer to all of this as God’s Eternal Covenant—God never leaves us without guidance when we need it, and to be fair, looking at the state of the world around us, we certainly seem to be in need of guidance.

Bahá’ís believe that Bahá’u’lláh is the Manifestation of God for today, who has brought the message of unity and oneness that applies to humanity’s needs in the present day. Whenever God sends a new Manifestation to teach humanity and renew His religion, it becomes the duty of all the people of the world to accept the new Manifestation and to follow His teachings, so it is important for everyone to investigate His claims and accept His teachings if the world is to progress.

As to whether people of different religions can achieve that state of “heaven” I described above, here’s my thought: If you live a good life ploughing rice fields as an Indian farmer and you die as a Hindu devotee without ever learning that God had renewed His message, could you be blamed for not accepting God’s religion? Not at all, because as far as you knew, yours was still God’s religion. But if God had renewed His message in the meantime, and somebody came by and told you about it, and you refused to accept it, then your soul would have to live through the rest of its eternal existence with that knowledge.

All of that said, of course, there is no way to get around the fact that people of different genders, races, nations, orientations, beliefs, and religions are part of the same human family. Furthermore, Bahá’ís are specifically exhorted to “consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship”, so no matter where your religion is on that continuum, you’re still a member of the human family and we’re gonna love you, respect you and value you. Nobody’s going to throw anyone into a lake of fire for our sake, but at the end of the day, there are some serious truths that Bahá’u’lláh presents that everyone should investigate, because they are well-suited for today’s world and can help humanity to progress.

Photo: Golden rule, by Phil Squires.

the old blogging days

So, since we were talking about websites the other day, I thought I’d go back to that subject a little and ramble on about the Internet. Because, you know, nothing is more meta than getting on the Internet to read what people have to say about the Internet. So come, let us sit on the porch in our rocking chairs, and shoot the breeze about the good old days of Doberman Pizza and Bahá’í blogging.

One of my favourite taglines for doberman pizza is “rolled, dressed and cooking since 1994“. That was the year when I first uploaded my homepage to a local Internet Service Provider, complete with wild rainbow colours, insane graphics and even insaner content. One of my first web projects, Find The Beagles, is still online after all these years, and still sports the same look it did way back then. What’s Your Pokéname?, a frivolous name generator that I coded up while in university, has only changed a little since the early days, but miraculously, it still gets over a thousand hits per month.

The “blog” part of the site appeared in June 2000, powered by a handmade Perl script. It wasn’t much more than a makeshift Twitter feed filled with mundane updates like:

whoops, left at 01:57 on 19/12/00: I just erased netscape by mistake! How *^$@# cool am I?

you’re e, left at 14:49 on 26/01/01: this is me at shamdogg’s place doing SECRET SQUIRREL things. peace to you all.

thwomp, left at 09:38 on 19/03/01: do you realize that this website is almost completely purposeless? that’s a rather interesting concept!

But then, there were also some interesting bits of news back in the day, too:

the main event, left at 07:23 on 22/05/01: In case you haven’t heard, the terraces of the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel are being officially opened today. They’re broadcasting it live on the web, in realplayer format. it’s going on today and tomorrow. Check it out!

Eventually, I signed up with Blogger and set up a proper blog page. Soon enough, Bahá’í blogs started appearing here, there, and everywhere: Povo de Bahá, Sliding Thoughts (now A Calm Storm), Life of Leif, Warble, Baha’i Thought, Baha’i Views, Anxiously Concerned, Correlating, and Barnabas Quotidianus, to name a few of my favourites—not to mention Martin’s Quest, Vafa.tk, and Arash City. And then, of course, there was Bahá’í Blog, which looked very different from its current incarnation, but was still pretty darn cool. (I mean, they were regular readers of Doberman Pizza, so of course they were cool.)

Around 2007, things had started to get pretty well organized in the Bahá’í blogosphere, as we called it. I had my own 15 seconds of fame when my blog and I were featured in an article for the Canadian Bahá’í News Service. But soon enough, newfangled Web 2.0 websites started appearing, like Facebook, Twitter, and the like, and blogs started losing a lot of the prominence they once had. For me, I also got pretty busy around this time, and I hopped over to Vietnam, where my life got turned upside-down. As a result, Doberman Pizza took some extended down time, and for a while I wasn’t even sure if it would ever get going again.

That’s why things like this Bahá’í Blogging Challenge are really a stroke of genius. First of all, you have the challenge—go ahead, post something new every day, I dare you. A call like that has to be answered, and the requirement to post each day gets the creative juices flowing out of necessity. Second, you have the added benefit of support from all of the other poor souls who are also toiling through the challenge. In fact, some of the old-school bloggers I mentioned above, such as Sholeh at A Calm Storm and James at Warble are participating, too—check out what they’ve been writing, and get wowed by how far back their archived posts go. All in all, it encourages us to rise above the lethargy imposed upon us by our busy lives and just create—spin our words into something beautiful, just like we did in the old days.

Hmm, speaking of the old days, maybe I should go hang out at Shamdogg’s place. ben to tings. you’re e.

a channel of grace

dr. shapour javanmardi, October 24, 2005

To be a channel of God’s grace on earth, one must be humble. One must be ready to serve all of humanity without a trace of prejudice. One must have unshakeable faith in the power of divine assistance, and a strong, all-embracing love for all those who may cross one’s path.

Dr. Shapour Javanmardi, who “welcomed all… with matchless hospitality, whose devotion to the Cause was a constant inspiration to greater action, and whose ceaseless encouragement… strengthened and uplifted so many [in their] paths of service”, was indeed a channel of God’s grace to those he knew. Upon his passing in October 2005, the hearts of many opened up in warm and loving remembrance of a soul who had travelled the world to spread abroad the fragrance of God’s love:

“Having lived as a Bahá’í pioneer in Tunisia with his wife Mahin, he settled in Québec forty years ago (1966), and there he sustained the growth of the Bahá’í Faith. His efforts greatly contributed to the development of several nascent Bahá’í communities in Québec, including Victoriaville, Warwick, and Drummondville in the Centre-du-Québec region, as well as the community of Montréal.”

“He was the most loving, warm, and self-sacrificing man I’ve known. He was the grandfather of some very close friends of mine, but he was so kind to all that I often thought of him as my own grandfather.”

“Every time he welcomed me with his warm embrace, I returned home feeling that this was friendship, this was love, this was what it meant to be a Bahá’í.”

“His warmth, his all-embracing love, his passion and courage, and his capacity to encourage, inspire and rally the troops of the All-Beloved were unique and irreplaceable.”

“…we deeply lament the passing of a dear, long-time friend…”

“He was truly a fine man. Anyone who had met him should feel blessed.”

In remembrance of Dr. Javanmardi, I’ll share a story here that I’ve told and retold, about him and his wife, and how great was their faith in the power of God’s assistance.

The Javanmardis settled in the Montréal area in the 1960s, at a time when the Bahá’í community around the world was growing by leaps and bounds. It seemed as though everyone was curious to hear about this new message from God, a message based on unity, love, kindness, justice, and peace. In the interest of sharing this message with as many people as possible, Bahá’ís would often travel to new places, seeking out receptive souls who were waiting to hear.

Shapour Javanmardi and his wife Mahin were no exception. Whenever they had a moment to spare from helping to build and strengthen the Bahá’í community in their hometown, they buckled up for a drive into Québec’s heartland. They criss-crossed the countryside, rolling through villages and towns, stopping to speak with locals in the hopes of striking up a conversation. On one of these occasions, they had been driving around in this way for hours without much success. Tired, they began to consider turning back and heading home. But before heading back, they thought, they should at least stop somewhere and offer prayers. Maybe the prayers would attract divine confirmations and lead some pure soul towards them, towards the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh.

glorious afternoon in victoSo they rounded the next curve and drove over the next hill, and spotted a good place to stop, in a small driveway in front of a farmhouse, surrounded by fields. There they stopped, pulled out prayer books and began to pray: For God’s guidance, for His assistance, and for the triumph of His Cause. Big prayers. Beautiful prayers. The kind that reach down into the core of your being and say, “This is it.” And finally, after a few more moments of reflection, they rolled back out of the driveway and turned back towards home.

Somehow, when humble and pure souls offer prayers to their Lord, He ends up answering those prayers in astonishing ways. And wouldn’t you know it, that driveway they pulled into belonged to a farmer and his wife who, many years later, became the first people in the region to declare their faith in Bahá’u’lláh, in the tiny village of Warwick. More of their family members became Bahá’ís, and soon enough, in the neighbouring town of Victoriaville, a Local Spiritual Assembly was formed, the first in the region. Although his wife had passed away by that time, Dr. Javanmardi, now a member of the Regional Bahá’í Council of Québec, came to visit the members of the Assembly, treating us to lunch and telling us all about this story, the story of how those prayers were finally answered. Fifteen years later, that same Spiritual Assembly still stands, and the community has grown in size and in maturity.

What is this, if not the evidence of Divine grace? Dr. Javanmardi, we miss your warmth and your presence among us, but we honour you and what you were enabled to achieve. May you always be richly blessed, in all the worlds of God.

The original post, dr. shapour javanmardi, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Quotes from doberman pizza, Jeunesse Bahá’íe, and service in zambia. Photo: La Presse, 26 october, 2005.

websites = life

The life of a web developer is basically just websites. Unless, you know, you like to go outside or something. But going outside’s beside the point of this post. This post is all about websites. Pretty little websites, all in a row. Big ones, small ones, wikis, social networks, coffee pot webcams, and more.

So, yeah, I spend a lot of my time on websites. Some of them you’ve probably heard of, and some you probably haven’t. Take, for instance, Wikipedia. You haven’t heard of that one, right? It’s a homework help free content farm online encyclopedia that has lots of cool stuff on it about small villages in England and bizarrely named dog breeds and stuff. I’ve been editing Wikipedia since about 2006, and, oddly enough, I feel like it’s actually helped me improve my writing skills. I’ve worked on a bunch of articles about Vietnam, and a few Bahá’í-related articles too.

Speaking of Bahá’í-related Wikipedia articles, Bahaikipedia is a thing too. It was created around the same time as I started writing on Wikipedia; I even blogged about it way back when I first started contributing there. It’s quietly but steadily grown over the years, to the point where there are now over 4,000 articles. Take a look through it when you get the chance, and if wikis are your thing (or even if they’re not), why not create an account and start contributing yourself?

Speaking of places where you should create an account and contribute, did you know that there’s a Baha’i Reddit group (aka “subreddit”)? It’s an interesting place to have conversations on all kinds of topics related to the Bahá’í Faith, and it’s pretty legit—well, at least legit enough to be featured on Bahá’í Blog, in an article marking its 9th anniversary. There are also related subreddits about Bahá’í history, photography, web/software projects, newsquotes, so there’s something for everyone. Over the past month there’ve been some pretty good threads on a variety of topics, including Light to the World, the new documentary on the life of Bahá’u’lláh; how one goes about becoming a Bahá’í; backbiting; the purpose of life; favourite recipes for 19-day Feasts; and more. Conversations can get challenging sometimes because it’s a forum that’s open to everyone, but the group is (ahem) pretty well moderated and, as a result, the cream tends to rise to the top.

Speaking of Reddit and having conversations, some Reddit users got together and created a Baha’i chat server on a platform ironically called “Discord”, which is popular with gamers and offers text, audio and video chat. It’s a fairly new server, but there are usually a few people online to chat with, for those who’d like the chance to talk to Bahá’ís and their friends in real time. They’ve created a new front page for the server with the amazing domain name bahai.fyi (don’t you just wish you had registered that one).

Speaking of amazing domain names… uh… well, I have one. Right? (That’s all for now, but don’t worry, there’ll be more talk about nerdy Internet stuff later on. For now, just go click on some links and have a great time.)

peace starts with us

to a thought of hatred, thoughts of love, July 23, 2013

Cricket PassionWhatever happens in life, we always have a choice of how to respond. These choices we make determine whether we create hatred or love, war or peace, despair or hope. When we create love, peace and hope in our families and in our neighbourhoods, it grows and trickles upwards through our cities, our regions, our nations and our world—that’s why we say world peace starts with us, inside of us. It makes our lives—and the lives of those around us—lighter, brighter, more livable.

Recently, one of my blogging friends shared a particularly touching story, and I thought it would be nice to share it in connection with this theme. It’s the story of a Hindu man who gave blood to save the life of a Muslim woman—and, in doing so, ended their town’s history of sectarian violence. Originally published in the Toronto Star in 2011, this story is a timeless example of how thoughts of love, expressed through action, can overcome even the longest history of hatred.

Before 2004 life in the village of Basti Mahran in Pakistan was extremely difficult for everyone, but especially for the Hindu minority. Hindu girls were routinely raped by Muslim men. Cattle that belonged to the Hindu villagers were slaughtered and attacks on all Hindus were widespread.

And then a very ill young Muslim mother arrived at the local clinic. She had lost a lot of blood in childbirth and needed a transfusion, but the doctors couldn’t find anyone with the same O-negative blood type. Bachu Rama, a local Hindu man with the same blood-type offered to give his blood.

Before long a group of Muslims charged the clinic to find and kill Ram. The group was led by Mahar Abdul Latif.

Latif hated Hindus and in the 1990s had been part of an extremist group who patrolled the mountains in Kashmir killing all Hindus who crossed their path. As Latif and his gang approached the clinic, they were stopped by a doctor who told them that Ram was this young woman’s only chance.

“I don’t know what came over me,” Latif says. “I remember thinking that here we were refusing to even shake hands with the Hindus, and he was willing to give us his blood. It was a marvelous thing he did. It was the turning point of my life.”

Next morning, Latif visited Ram’s home to thank him. This was the first time in living memory that a Muslim visited a Hindu home in Basti Mahran. Soon everyone heard of Ram’s generosity and Latif’s change of heart, and things in the village began to change.

The women began to talk to each other. The rapes and attacks stopped. Now Hindus and Muslims not only liked each other, they also actively supported each other – even in their religious practice.

This spirit of reciprocity and cooperation spread to every area of life in the village. Women from both communities joined forces in their cotton selling businesses and began to earn four times more that they had earned when selling separately. The villagers successfully lobbied the government to build power lines, roads and a proper water supply.

When I shared this story with other friends recently, someone commented: “I want to believe it… but it just seems to good to be true.” But these kinds of gestures of love, kindness and fellowship happen everywhere, in neighbourhoods and towns in every country around the world. Sometimes these gestures are small, like the kids in our neighbourhood who left a kind note for their neighbour. Sometimes they’re bigger and more dramatic, like Bachu Rama’s gift of blood that welded a town’s Muslim and Hindu communities together.

And the kind of spiritual transformation that resulted isn’t specific to Basti Mehran, either. Look at the transformation of Norte de Bolivar in Colombia, where crime became “unheard of” after many years of effort teaching and empowering the village’s children and junior youth. Look at the transformation of Bihar Sharif in India, where the lines of caste, age and gender began to blur and fade away after years of expanding community-building activities to welcome a greater and greater diversity of people. Look at the transformation of Tanna in Vanuatu, where a community energized by a spirit of service weathered the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam and began efforts to rebuild their communities long before aid agencies set foot on their island. It’s not too good to be true; it’s just true. People everywhere are able to make choices that lead to the transformation of their communities.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who Bahá’ís take as an example of right conduct, left behind a wealth of Writings that interpret and explain the teachings of His Father, Bahá’u’lláh. Among these are pieces of very practical advice on how to create peaceful, loving communities. My favourite among these goes: “When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.” In other words, action follows thought: When we focus on thoughts of war and hatred, warlike and hateful actions will be the result. And when we focus on thoughts of peace and love, peaceful and loving actions will be the result—in our personal lives, our families, our neighbourhoods, our cities, our regions, our nations and our world.

That’s why we say world peace starts with us, inside of us. It makes our lives—and the lives of those around us—lighter, brighter, more livable.

The original post, to a thought of hatred, thoughts of love, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Special thanks to Trisha at creating reciprocity for bringing the story of Bachu Rama and Mahar Abdul Latif to my attention. Photo: Cricket Passion by Umair.