‘Abdu’l-Bahá Tells Canada: “Be Happy!” 1
ON ‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ’S FIRST MORNING in Canada, the front page of the largest newspaper in the country’s largest city printed an original pencil sketch of the “messenger of peace from the Orient to the Occident” who brought the city a clear message: “Be happy! You in Canada live in a magnificent, peaceful country. Be happy!”
The editor of the Montreal Daily Star, who was waiting for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to arrive on the night of August 30, chose to highlight the apparent contrast of this “Apostle of Peace” predicting “an Appalling War” in Europe.
One of the major differences between Canada and the United States in 1912 was that Canadians saw world events through the lens of their membership in the British Empire. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke about a coming war in Europe, the warning held an immediacy for Canadians that it lacked in the United States. Britain was sure to be a principal player in any coming conflict, and as part of the Empire, Canada would be automatically involved.
Amongst Anglophone Canadians especially, talk of war was framed in terms of imperial or national duty and an opportunity to demonstrate manly virtues. In the context of such dominant ideas, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s statements about war were bold and, as the editor saw them, quite surprising.
“War must cease,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá declares. “There is something above and beyond patriotism, and it is better to love your fellowmen than to love only your countrymen. When we see this and know in very truth the brotherhood of man, war will appear to us in its true light as an outrage on civilization, an act of madness and blindness . . . we shall recognize that we were like men in a dungeon, fighting and slaying ourselves.”
On Saturday, August 31, as He rode through town, ’Abdu’l-Bahá passed the cathedral. After going in to look at it, He told the friends, “‘Behold what eleven disciples have done. How they effected themselves! I exhort you to walk in their footsteps. When a person is severed, he is capable of revolutionizing the whole world.’”
That evening, after ’Abdu’l-Bahá had granted scores of interviews all day long, another group was waiting for private talks. Because He was so tired, the friends suggested that the remaining people should leave and return the next day. He answered, “’No, this is the time to work. We must not think of exhaustion or anything else. Let every one come to me.’”
29 August 1912, Talk at Home of Madame Morey, 34 Hillside Avenue, Malden, Massachusetts 3
Man must walk in many paths and be subjected to various processes in his evolution upward. Physically he is not born in full stature but passes through consecutive stages of fetus, infant, childhood, youth, maturity and old age. Suppose he had the power to remain young throughout his life. He then would not understand the meaning of old age and could not believe it existed. If he could not realize the condition of old age, he would not know that he was young. He would not know the difference between young and old without experiencing the old. Unless you have passed through the state of infancy, how would you know this was an infant beside you? If there were no wrong, how would you recognize the right? If it were not for sin, how would you appreciate virtue? If evil deeds were unknown, how could you commend good actions? If sickness did not exist, how would you understand health? Evil is nonexistent; it is the absence of good. Sickness is the loss of health; poverty, the lack of riches. When wealth disappears, you are poor; you look within the treasure box but find nothing there. Without knowledge there is ignorance; therefore, ignorance is simply the lack of knowledge. Death is the absence of life. Therefore, on the one hand, we have existence; on the other, nonexistence, negation or absence of existence.
Briefly, the journey of the soul is necessary. The pathway of life is the road which leads to divine knowledge and attainment. Without training and guidance the soul could never progress beyond the conditions of its lower nature, which is ignorant and defective.
Friday, August 31, 1912 4
In the morning, the pastor of the Unitarian Church came with several others to visit ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The Master discussed with them the elimination of religious superstitions and prejudices, which are contrary to science and common sense and which are obstacles to the attainment of the foundation of truth of the divine religions.
A newspaper reporter was then announced. He had come to interview the Master about His life and the history of the Cause. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave a detailed account, which was recorded by the reporter.
The Master went to the dinner table. Mr Maxwell had come from the customs house and said that when the inspector opened the first suitcase and saw a picture of the Master, he asked, ‘Is this the picture of the prophet of Persia?’ When he received an affirmative reply, the inspector said, ‘There is no need to inspect these goods’ and released all the luggage.
“Some of the newspapers accounts about the visit of the Master are full of reverence and praise.
“In the afternoon, at the invitation of Mr Maxwell, the Master went for ride in the town. While in the carriage He remarked:
“Every city in which the remembrance of God is raised is a divine city. ‘Akká was a despised city but when it became the center of the mention of God and the dawning place of His Light, it illumined the world.”
When He saw some of the college buildings, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said:
“As only material education is imparted and only natural philosophy is taught, these universities do not produce highly talented scholars. When both the natural and the divine philosophies are expounded, they will bring forth outstanding souls and evince great advancement. The reason for the success of the Greek schools was that they combined both natural and divine philosophies.”
As His carriage passed by the Unitarian Church, He said, ‘Tomorrow we will raise the Call of God in this place.’
The carriage reached the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame. Everything was quiet and no one was in sight. The Master alighted and went in to see the huge building. With rapt attention, He gazed at the vast cathedral, its ornamentation and numerous statues and spoke of its grandeur and embellishments. Standing in an open space at the entrance, He addressed us saying:
“Behold what eleven disciples of Christ have accomplished, how they sacrificed themselves! I exhort you to walk in their footsteps. When a person is detached, he is capable of revolutionizing the whole world. The disciples of Christ met together in consultation on top of a mountain. They pledged themselves to undergo all manner of hardships, to accept every affliction as a bounty and to consider all difficulties easy to overcome. ‘He who is tied to a family, let him arrange to leave it; he who is not should remain single. He should forgo his comfort and his life.’ Consulting thus, they descended from the mountain and each one went a different way and never returned. It is for this reason that they were able to leave behind such achievements. After Christ, the disciples truly forgot themselves, and not merely in word. Hence, the Blessed Beauty cited:
“Either be like women and indulge in adornment and pleasure
“Or like men, come out and throw down the gauntlet.”
’ Abdu’l-Bahá took His seat in the carriage again and told us:
“On our way to Baghdád we had to put up with unbearable hardships. At one time a Turkish soldier of the Ottoman army appeared before us. Mírzá Yahyá, on seeing the soldier sitting on the horse with majesty and dignity, cried out with great grief and despair, ‘Oh! Where were we? Where are we now going? They say that all heads will bow. When shall it be?’ I said to him in reply, ‘When the divine bounty attains perfection, persons greater than this soldier will bow their heads under the shadow of the Word of God.’ Where is Mírzá Yahyá now? Let him come and see how the power of Bahá’u’lláh has so inspired humility in these Americans, who consider the Turks as nothing, that a person like Mr Maxwell, an American, is with deference serving Mírzá Ahmad, a Persian.”
In the evening there was a well-attended meeting at ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s residence. He spoke, with good effect, about spiritual progress and the manifestation of divine virtues in human realities. Afterwards many requested private interviews. On receiving satisfactory answers to their questions, they expressed their heartfelt gratitude. Among them was the president of a socialist organization who invited the Master to his group. His request was granted. As it grew late in the evening and other people were waiting for private interviews, we suggested that since the Master might be weary, it would be better if the rest of those waiting came back in the morning. He replied, ‘No, this is the time to work. We must not think of our fatigue. Everyone is to be met.’
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny
A pastor and a reporter were among the first Canadians to visit ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Mechel, Tony. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá Tells Canada: ‘Be Happy!’” 239 Days in America, 31 Aug. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/08/31/abdul-baha-tells-canada-be-happy/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 133. ↩
- 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, 295-296. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/20#524453693 ↩
- ’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=6#section160 ↩