A Different Side of America 1
IT IS A FUNDAMENTALLY different task to write feature stories about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Dublin, New Hampshire, than it is to reconstruct life in New York, Washington, or Chicago. Only about 500 people lived in Dublin in 1912. Like many summer destinations, the population swelled during the sunny months, but it remained a small country village. While many newspapers covered the goings-on in the big metropolitan areas, and many of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s speeches there were written down, in Dublin there are very few sources to mine.
In Dublin it is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s interactions with the unique characters who lived there in the summer of 1912 that comprise the most interesting aspects of the story. We have met some of these families already in the last two days: the Parsons, the Joseph Lindon Smiths, the Brushes, and the Thayers. They were not national figures. Some possessed extreme wealth; others were artists with compelling personal histories.
During our research for these three weeks in Dublin we were surprised by how many currents of thought, emblematic of the times, reached into this tiny village. The artists here, whom we will meet, did not merely paint beautiful images or write beautiful sentences. They constructed a view of human nature that we may consider to be controversial or retrograde today, but that wrestled with the outlooks of the age, whether Eugenics, Orientalism, Positivism, or Late Transcendentalism. These viewpoints were central to the conversations ‘Abdu’l-Bahá encountered among intelligent people in 1912. As we shall see in the days to come, they reveal a different side of America.
Sunday, July 28, 1912 2
After prayers the Master revealed several Tablets. A lengthy one was addressed to Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl (may my life be a sacrifice to him). The Master’s affection and love for him was such that when Mr MacNutt presented Him with a picture of Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl, He took it at once and kissed it with such love and warmth that all saw how dear he was to the Master.
The Master sat in the drawing room and spoke to Mr Harmon about the sanctity of God, who is beyond emanation and appearance, ascent and descent, ingress and egress, and about the reflection of His attributes on the mirrors of the hearts of the Manifestations. His talk was brief but comprehensive and impressive. He also explained the meanings of the holy books and discussed the saying that ‘everything is contained in everything’, that is, every atom of creation passes through infinite forms and every molecule is transformed and passes through everything else. He then said:
“The Theosophists are educating a boy in the schools of Europe and say that he will become the promised one of all nations. How ignorant this is! God must select the Promised One, not men. The lamp that men ignite will be put out; but the Lamp of God is ever bright. He who is educated by men is always dependent on men. How can he give eternal prosperity? It is as if a person wishes to make a sun out of oil and wick.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá was asked about the conditions in Turkey. He replied, ‘Do not expect good news from that spot. But we have nothing to do with political affairs. Our work concerns spirituality, the knowledge of God and the acquisition of spiritual bounties.’
A group of prominent persons came to see Him in the afternoon at Mrs Parsons’s home. The subjects concerned telepathy, the immortality of the spirit and related subjects. The guests were so impressed that they attended every meeting. After each day’s meeting Mr and Mrs Parsons come with their carriage to take the Master out riding with them. Today He said He would rather go for a walk and instead sent some of these servants for a ride.
This evening Mr Harmon read to the Master passages from a book he had written on Theosophy and Buddhist teachings. He showed Him the illustrations he had drawn. He had illustrated truth as a circle, with God at its center, and divided the circle into seven segments representing the world of creation. The Master listened to him with love and patience while at the same time removing his superstitions with quotations from philosophers and sages in such a way that Mr Harmon was astonished. The Master explained the seven segments so beautifully that he cried, ‘Oh, your explanations have opened the doors of understanding before me!’ The Master then said, ‘I have had no education. I have not even been to elementary school. These people know it.’ Mr Harmon said, ‘I feel that whatever you say comes from innate knowledge.’
Talk to Theosophical Society, The Kensington, Exeter and Boylston Streets, Boston, Massachusetts, 24 July 1912 3
The philosophers of the world are divided into two classes: materialists, who deny the spirit and its immortality, and the divine philosophers, the wise men of God, the true illuminati who believe in the spirit and its continuance hereafter. The ancient philosophers taught that man consists simply of the material elements which compose his cellular structure and that when this composition is disintegrated the life of man becomes extinct. They reasoned that man is body only, and from this elemental composition the organs and their functions, the senses, powers and attributes which characterize man have proceeded, and that these disappear completely with the physical body. This is practically the statement of all the materialists.
The divine philosophers proclaim that the spirit of man is ever-living and eternal, and because of the objections of the materialists, these wise men of God have advanced rational proofs to support the validity of their statement. Inasmuch as the materialistic philosophers deny the Books of God, scriptural demonstration is not evidence to them, and materialistic proofs are necessary. Answering them, the men of divine knowledge have said that all existing phenomena may be resolved into grades or kingdoms, classified progressively as mineral, vegetable, animal and human, each of which possesses its degree of function and intelligence. When we consider the mineral, we find that it exists and is possessed of the power of affinity or combination. The vegetable possesses the qualities of the mineral plus the augmentative virtue or power of growth. It is, therefore, evident that the vegetable kingdom is superior to the mineral. The animal kingdom in turn possesses the qualities of the mineral and vegetable plus the five senses of perception whereof the kingdoms below it are lacking. Likewise, the power of memory inherent in the animal does not exist in the lower kingdoms.
’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
- Menon, Jonathan. “A Different Side of America.” 239 Days in America, 28 July 2012, https://239days.com/2012/07/28/abdul-baha-in-dublin-new-hampshire/. ↩
- ’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=5#section126 ↩
- 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, 240. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/17#650985033 ↩