How do different faith traditions encourage the spiritual growth of their adherents?

How does the Baha’i Faith encourage the spiritual growth of its members?

Thank you to Paula Drewek

Spiritual growth and development is at the heart of the faith of individual Baha’is as well as the community at large, a community of about 6 million believers in virtually every country and territory on the globe

Just as the phenomenal sun shines upon the material world producing life and growth, likewise the spiritual or prophetic Sun confers illumination upon the human world of thought and intelligence, and unless it rose upon the horizon of human existence the kingdom of man would become dark and extinguished.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, 254)

The process of spiritual development is one which evolves continually in Baha’i tradition, but it always includes the 3 stages of reading and study, followed by action, and then reflection. Currently, Baha’i communities across the globe from Figi Islands to Ukraine to Chili and Alaska are involved in a series of study books developed by the Ruhi institute in Cali, Columbia in the late 1980’s.

The intention of this program is to build the individual’s capacity to develop and reflect the divine virtues, while simultaneously engaging participants in community service. Participants then return every 3 months to reflect on the process and share experiences.  The reflection gatherings both evaluate the experiences of the community and plan its next steps of growth. The process promotes sustainable development through the continual refinement of action and reflection.

The Ruhi Institute tries to understand the process of the transformation of human society in terms of a…complex set of interactions between two parallel developments:  the transformation of the individual, and the deliberate creation of the structures of a new society.”  (“Learning About Growth, p. 57)

the study sessions utilize Baha’i scriptures as the engine of spiritual growth.  Spiritual growth is understood to be the acquisition of virtues and derives from the quickening power of the Word of God as revealed by Baha’u’llah, 19th-century Persian founder of the Baha’i Faith.  Baha’i scriptures are written by Baha’u’llah and His forerunner, the Bab, and Abdul-‘Baha, Baha’u’llah’s son and appointed interpreter. They are vast in scope and cover virtually every topic pertaining to the human quest for truth, happiness and well-being.

“Baha’is regard humans as “a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education alone can cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, 259)

The study sessions are based on a series of themes arranged in a sequence that is designed to guide the individual in developing spiritual capacity:  prayer, life and death, teaching, service, Baha’i beliefs, teaching children’s classes, the twin founders of Baha’i (prophets who are referred to as Manifestations), and walking together the path of service.

The study materials are presented in a series of books which continue to be developed to fulfill the community’s needs.  Study is facilitated by 2 persons who have achieved competency by completing all 6 of the initial books.

The sessions generally involve participants’ expression in the arts and crafts, role playing, making musical instruments, singing, decorating books, story-telling and such to ignite the imagination and engage participants in the sharing of ideas and talents, and to create an atmosphere of fun and play. Participants include both Baha’is and others interested in spiritual growth.

Individuals and communities holding devotional gatherings in homes, inviting friends and neighbors of many faith backgrounds to pray together, share inspiring writings and music is another method of spiritual growth.  Unity is built through the sharing of common spiritual interests in order to promote discussion, understanding, friendships with others and a decrease in fear and mistrust.

Classes for children and youth are another arm of the Baha’i community’s program to encourage spiritual development.  Very comprehensive programs for child education have been a specialty of the Louhelen Baha’i School and Retreat Center located just south of Davison, Michigan.

Individual prayer and meditation is also important and is encouraged daily, as is fasting during the final month of the Baha’i calendar year which ends on March 21.

How Does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS Church) Encourage the Spiritual Growth of its Members?

Thank you to Greg Geiger

Spiritual growth, which we understand to be an increase in each person’s faith, knowledge, and desire to love and serve God and all of His children, is a principal focus of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Church members honor the Lord’s commandment “to seek learning by study, and also by faith” through personal scripture study, and Church and personal gospel service. Some Churches with a professional, seminary-trained clergy wonder  how any church can function with a lay ministry (all local LDS Church members and leaders volunteer their time without monetary compensation). The development of Church members and leaders  relies entirely on personal scripture study, prayer, service  and “teaching one another” the doctrines of the gospel. Everyone in the Church helps to serve everyone else, and that unselfish service is a powerful springboard for spiritual growth.

The LDS Church  succeeds because members devote significant personal time and effort to learning through study and service. For example, weekly Church services typically include three roughly 1-hour blocks

1.       Sacrament meeting, our weekly worship meeting

2.       Sunday School instruction , which follows a 4-year cycle of study that includes the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants (instructions given to Joseph Smith regarding the Latter-day Church) and

3.       Priesthood and Relief Society meetings for men and women that focus on the application of gospel principles at home, in Church and in the community.

Church leaders and teachers will spend many more hours each week  in  preparing for classes and ministering to individual members.

In addition, Church members are encouraged to read scriptures and pray at home as a family each day. Parents gather their children together each Monday night for Family Home Evening, where parents teach their children age appropriate lessons about how to live the gospel, play games, and foster relationships that create a happy home.

High School students participate in Seminary, an early morning (6 AM) gospel class taught by an adult volunteer before school each day. Many young men and women choose to serve a 2-year mission in which they are called to serve others on full-time basis, often in a foreign country. They dedicate 100% of their time to gospel study,  and serving and teaching others. They do this at their own expense, and leave behind all personal interests – no dating, no music, no video games or other distractions.

For those who observe the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints carefully, and note how their religious values and practices are intertwined with their daily lives, it is no surprise to learn that the Pew Survey found Mormons rank among the highest of all religious group in commitment to their faith, and understanding of their own faith,  and other faiths ( see http://www.pewforum.org/2010/09/28/u-s-religious-knowledge-survey/).

You could personally test this if you get a chance by talking to one of our young Mormon missionaries. Their personal stories of dedication and how they came to be serving the Lord on foot or bicycle are likely to be compelling. I think you would find it to be a very interesting conversation.

What are the ways in which Hindus are encouraged to grow spiritually?* 

Thank you to Padma Kuppa

Some Hindu basics:

A devout Hindu has four aims in life: to practice dharma (meaning justice or righteousness), acquire artha (one’s means for living, loosely translated as wealth); seek kama (pleasure), and attain moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death).

An individual’s basic instincts are made of three gunas – sattva, calmness; rajas, action; and tamas, inertia – which coexist in varying degree of dominance.

There are Yamas and Niyamas, Hindu guidelines for ethical living and the closest thing to “dos and don’ts” – which Swami Kriyananda delineates while explaining the science of Self-Realization.

And finally, in his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali, the great Hindu sage and ancient guru, explains that the path to enlightenment embraces eight stages – known as the eight limbs of yoga or ashtanga yoga.  But Patanjali’s first aphorism states that “yoga is controlling the thought waves of the mind” – not simply downward dog. Yoga, from the word “yuj” (Sanskrit, “to yoke” or “to unite”), refers to spiritual practices that are essential to the understanding and practice of Hinduism. Thus, an understanding of the various limbs of yoga – gives us an understanding he deeper purposes and directions of yoga.

So how does yoga connect to these gunas, and how is it related to spiritual growth?

The interplay of the gunas determines the nature of all our thoughts, feelings, and actions – renowned scholar David Frawley has more to say on the gunas and seeking a balance here. Sadhana (spiritual practice) is recommended according to the predominate guna. Hatha and dhyana yoga (the physical-exercise kind of yoga and meditation) may be suitable for those of sattvic nature, bhakti yoga or devotion for the rajasic person and karma yoga, selfless service or yoga of action, for the tamasic. Other forms of yoga – raja or gnana for example – are also paths to spiritual growth, and spiritual practice is tailored to the needs and inclinations of the individual, his state of mind, stage of life, and so on.

The most quoted and much revered Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, structured as a conversation between God and an individual, is probably one of the best places to go to understand how Hindus are encouraged to grow spiritually. As the late Sanskrit scholar Juan Mascaro writes in the introduction to his translation of the Gita: ”All life is action, but every little finite action should be a surrender to the Infinite, even as breathing in seems to be receiving of the gift of life, and the breathing out a surrender into the infinite Life. Every little work in life, however humble, can become an act of creation and therefore a means of salvation, because in all true creation we reconcile the finite with the Infinite, hence the joy of creation.”

Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, a Hindu monk from the Shaivite tradition, publisher of the magazine Hinduism Today and head of the Kauai Monastery, explains in his essay the Three Stages of Faith, that “We progress from blind faith to conviction bolstered by philosophy, and finally to certainty forged in the fires of personal experience.”

*does not represent all Hindu views on the subject

What are the ways in which Islam encourages the spiritual growth of its members?

Thank you Imam Elturk

Spiritual growth is central to the Islamic tradition. Practicing members of the Islamic faith continue to enhance their spiritual life and increase their faith. There are three different levels of spirituality in Islam. A Muslim may be (1) at the level of legal Islam, (2) at the level of iman (e-man), personal conviction, i.e., faith in the heart, or (3) at the level of ihsan (ih-san) or perfecting faith. These three elements constitute the essence of the Islamic faith.

The three tiers of spiritual growth

1)      Islam (legal faith): Knowing God and submitting to His Will is the first step to spirituality. A Muslim is one who is conscious of his/her Creator, accepts God as the sole and supreme deity and attests that “there is no god except God (Allah) and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God”. The first part of the testimony of faith is the epitome of what Muslims call Tawheed or “Oneness of God.” The second part of the testimony of faith is to testify that Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is the final and seal of a long chain of prophets and messengers starting with Adam and ending with Jesus, including Noah, Abraham and Moses, peace be upon them all.

At this level one must believe in God and His angels, scriptures, prophets, the hereafter as well as the divine decree and accept the modes of worship commonly known as the five pillars of Islam which include, the verbal attestation, the five daily prayers (salah), the obligatory charity (zakat), the fast of the month of Ramadan (saum) and the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj).

Having become conscious of God, the individual begins to live his or her life according to the Islamic law or shari’ah. At this stage, the individual is considered a legal Muslim and enjoys all the privilages Islam offers to its adherants such as zakat if one qualifies among other things.

At this level the verbal acceptance of the Islamic creed is not necessarily reflective of what is in the individual’s heart regarding that which he or she has uttered with the tongue. Nonetheless, verbal attestation and righteous behavior do indeed heighten the individual’s consciousness of God and he or she becomes prepared to move to the next stage.

2)    Iman (real faith): When an individual’s heart genuinely understands and freely accepts what the tongue has uttered and continues to be complemented by righteous deeds with utmost sincerity, then the individual is said to have attained genuine and true faith. At this stage, the statement of faith is not merely a dogmatic assertion but a living and life-giving conviction.

At this level, a believer is not only conscious of his/her Creator but conscious of the practical manifestation of the faith. Prayers become the means to be constantly connected with God, because a true believer needs Him every moment of his or her life. The concept of monotheism and the need to pray are beautifully blended in the verse “Verily, I am God; there is no god but Me. So worship Me and keep up the prayer so that you remember Me” (Ta Ha, 20:14). Zakat entails action pertaining to production of wealth, and its purification through spending in charitable causes as ordained by God. Fasting too is a mode of worship that besides many other benefits raises one’s level of piety, and strengthens one spiritually. Finally, performance of hajj, which is all about sincere repentance, eradicates one’s sins and makes one return sinless, as if it were, to the day one was born. Islam negates the idea of the original sin.

When there is no discrepancy between what is uttered by the tongue, what is manifested in action, and what is believed in the heart then the level of Iman or real faith has been reached.

3)      Ihsan (excellence in faith): Ihsan represents the zenith of spiritual development. The believer at this stage is delivered from ignorance and darkness and has attained gnosis. The believer’s ego becomes cultured and purified; it becomes capable of beholding directly true nature of reality. The heart is also cleansed and the light of the human spiritual soul enlightens the whole being of the person. The believer sees nothing but Divine Love, Majesty, and Beauty in the created universe and therefore selflessly devotes him/herself to the service of His creatures. In serving the creatures, he or she expects nothing in return from those being served but only heightened awareness of the Creator.

Ihsan constitutes the apex of the religious journey in Islam where the consciousness of the believer becomes so acute that, metaphorically speaking God is always before the believer’s eyes. The Prophet Muhammad eloquently explained Ihsan as “You worship God as if you actually see Him, for if you don’t actually see Him, He certainly sees you.”

Verse 93 of the fifth chapter of the Qur’an entitled al-Ma’idah or “The Table Spread” explains the feature that keeps a believer going higher and higher until one attains the highest level of spirituality, the level of ihsan. “Those who believe and do good deeds will not be blamed for what they may have (unlawfully) consumed (in the past) as long as they are mindful of God, believe and do good deeds (Islam), and continue to be mindful of God and believe (reaching the level of real Iman), and grow ever more mindful of God and perfect their faith (reaching the level of Ihsan): God loves the those who strive to perfect their faith.” It is clear that the driving force to go up from one level to the next higher level is the consciousness of God, the Almighty, All-Wise.