The Pursuit of Happiness 1
‘“ARE YOU HAPPY?”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá was known to spring this disarming question on unsuspecting Americans. They had agreed to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” when declaring their independence from rainy England. Happiness, it seemed, was an important instrument in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s repertoire.
On June 19, 1912, he tried it out again in New York. Mrs. Hinkle Smith came from a well-off family in Philadelphia. Her husband, William Hinkle Smith, was the director of a large copper mining outfit. When she first met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, she had asked him to give her a Persian name. He called her Tábandih, which means “Light-Giver.”
Today she had a headache.
After suggesting a particular type of medicine, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered an additional remedy. “You must always be happy,” he said. “You must associate with joyous and happy people . . . . Happiness has a direct influence in preserving our health, while being upset causes illness.” 2
But ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s philosophy on happiness ran deeper than platitudes or sentimentality. “The basis of eternal happiness,” he said, “is spirituality and divine virtue, which is not followed by sorrow. But physical happiness is subject to a thousand changes and vicissitudes.”
Talk at 309 West Seventy-eighth Street, New York 3
No matter how much the world of humanity advances in material civilization, it is nevertheless in need of the spiritual development mentioned in the Gospel. The virtues of the material world are limited, whereas divine virtues are unlimited. Inasmuch as material virtues are limited, man’s need of the perfections of the divine world is unlimited.
Throughout human history we find that although the very apex of human virtues has been reached at various times, yet they were limited, whereas divine attainments have ever been unbounded and infinite. The limited is ever in need of the unlimited. The material must be correlated with the spiritual. The material may be likened to the body, but divine virtues are the breathings of the Holy Spirit itself. The body without spirit is not capable of real accomplishment. Although it may be in the utmost condition of beauty and excellence, it is, nevertheless, in need of the spirit. The chimney of the lamp, no matter how polished and perfect it be, is in need of the light. Without the light, the lamp or candle is not illuminating. Without the spirit, the body is not productive. The teacher of material principles is limited. The philosophers who claimed to be the educators of mankind were at most only able to train themselves. If they educated others, it was within a restricted circle; they failed to bestow general education and development. This has been conferred upon humanity by the power of the Holy Spirit.
New York, Philadelphia, New York 4
Tuesday [June 18] was the day of movie-making. Previously, a motion-picture company had filmed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at the entrance of the Hotel Ansonia for national distribution. This gave the Bahá’ís the idea of making a more extensive film. On June 18, at the home of Mr. MacNutt, five different sequences were photographed. After that Mahmúd noted, “He went to see a Jewish friend who was ill at his home, which was forty miles from Brooklyn, He returned exhausted at night to New York.
Tuesday, June 18, 1912
At a public meeting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá again spoke on the “Tablet of the Branch,” His talk centering around the Covenant and its promise. After the meeting, many pleaded for a private interview and continued visiting Him until noon.
Today He received the manuscript of The Brilliant Proof written by Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl, which had been written in answer to the objections of a minister in London. Being pleased with the book, the Master instructed that it be translated and published.
He also spoke of the malice, mischief and misdeeds of the Azalis.
In the afternoon several friends visited and described the picturesque scenery and interesting places of America. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said:
We love meetings of fidelity and not picturesque scenes. We must first be faithful to God, to His ordinances and Covenant and to His servants. If we wish to see places of interest and picturesque scenes, we do so when we go visiting or when we pass through such places and scenes.
Sometimes during these days ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would evince a mood similar to that He had when He was staying in Egypt, when He wished for martyrdom, desiring to be sacrificed at the Threshold of God. Among the many Tablets revealed at this time was one in honor of Áqá Ridáy-i-Shírází, Qannád, who had recently ascended to the Abhá Kingdom. Some of the verses of the Tablet were on this same theme:
Fidelity demands roaming over deserts and mountains. True fidelity is attained when a wanderer, nameless and traceless, becomes a target for the arrows of oppression on the plain of martyrdom. O Lord! Ordain for Thy servant the realization of his utmost wish, this bounty which shines resplendent upon the horizon of fidelity, like unto the sun arisen at dawn. One request I have to put to the loved ones of Bahá, that they prostrate themselves before the holy threshold, lay their heads on the ground and ask that the sinful ‘Abdu’l-Bahá be granted the cup of immolation, so that he may, in servitude to the threshold of Bahá, taste the sweet savor of a drop from the ocean of fidelity. 5
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Jones, Caitlin Shayda. “The Pursuit of Happiness.” 239 Days in America, 18 June 2012, https://239days.com/2012/06/18/the-pursuit-of-happiness/. ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=4#section87 ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 205-206. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/14#975580776 ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 91. ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=4#section86 ↩