To Fight For a Handful of Dust 1
AS ‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ BOARDED the train that would conduct him eastward from Sacramento to Salt Lake City and Denver, Ottoman troops in Europe retreated from the Bulgarian border along a front that reached from Adrianople and Lozengrad. The heavy rain that accompanied them did not subside for three days, and many men threw down their guns in despair as they withdrew toward the Bosphorus.
The war had been going on for several weeks. Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, and Bulgaria had formed an alliance intent on reclaiming all European territories from the Ottoman Empire. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had traversed the terrain they fought on: as a young man he had accompanied his father in the dead of winter from Constantinople to Adrianople, their latest place of exile. Although he was half a world away from the battles now, the signs of war loomed close.
While ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was on the train, several railway employees approached him to say that he was on the very same train that had taken him to California. After a brief chat, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá asked them a question: “On this train there are many Greek passengers. Do you know where they are going?” When the railway staff told him that they were going to join the war against Turkey.
“God does not want war,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told the railway staff. “God is kind to all,” he said. “We, too, should be kind to one another.” He continued: “We should not fight for a handful of dust. The earth is our endless tomb. Is it worthy of us to wage war and shed blood for this tomb while God has destined that we win the cities of men’s hearts and bestowed upon us an eternal Kingdom?”
A public meeting was held in the hotel that night [October 25], with such a response that another meeting was arranged at the same place for the following morning. At 1:00 P.M. on Saturday, October 26, He left Sacramento, for Denver.
Saturday, October 26, 1912 3
’ Abdu’l-Bahá’s address this morning concerned the influence of the Divine Manifestations, together with a brief history of the Cause and its teachings, which clearly had a powerful effect on the audience. After the talk the people came to Him in groups to express their sincere interest. Journalists wrote several complimentary articles about His exposition and the divine teachings.
The friends arranged a farewell luncheon in His honor in the hotel’s dining room. The table was exquisitely decorated. More than 50 friends were there, each grateful to be present. This glorious meeting of the friends from the East and the West in the presence of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, so full of love and harmony, astonished all who witnessed it and hastened the spread of the Word of God. The manager of the hotel came with the utmost respect and courtesy to see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and was given a seat. Later he said, ‘What I have seen of the majesty of this holy being is that although no one knew him in this city, yet in the course of one day and one night he has created a stir in the city and a spiritual yearning in the hearts of its people.’
Thus did the power of the Covenant of God and the grandeur of the Cause shine resplendently in the eyes of the people.
After lunch ‘Abdu’l-Bahá bestowed kindness upon each of the friends, exhorting and admonishing them. Every soul offered praise and glory to the Lord of the Kingdom until after midday, when the train left for Denver. When it was time for Him to leave Sacramento, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was heard to say: ‘A spiritual commotion has for the time being been created in this city. Let us see what God desires.’ …
The Master passed the afternoon with His companions in the train in a delightful manner. At times He told humorous stories and at others praised the scenery of the countryside, the pleasant air and the beauty and verdancy of the surroundings. Some railway employees came to Him saying that the Master had been on the same train with them when they had traveled to California earlier. The Master replied, ‘Yes, it was so destined that I should see you once more on this trip. On this train there are many Greek passengers. Do you know where they are going?’ They informed the Master that they were going to their country in response to a call to fight against Turkey. The Master said:
“God does not want war. These wars are against the divine will. He desires peace and love for His servants. I pray that this darkness may be dispelled and the light of the Kingdom may envelop the world. God is kind to all. We, too, should be kind to one another. We should not fight for a handful of dust. The earth is our endless tomb. Is it worthy of us to wage war and shed blood for this tomb while God has destined that we win the cities of men’s hearts and bestowed upon us an eternal Kingdom? Is it worthy of us to shut our eyes to such an everlasting honor and instead make war over dust?”
A salesman was selling pennants from different schools. The Master said, ‘Tell him to bring the banner of universal peace if he has it. We want such a flag under which the whole world may find rest and peace.’
Several passengers who heard His discourses left their seats and drew near Him. Among those who were moved and impressed was a Jewish lady, who was very enthusiastic and interested. The Master said to her:
“It is obvious that you have a pure character, so I want you to become aware of the truth of divine matters. At the time of each Manifestation of God the people were heedless and ignorant of the truth except for a few who investigated and understood the divine words. The same is true today. So thank God that you have been endowed with capacity and desire to investigate the truth. Know this much: that the treasury of God is replete; He will shower the same bounties and gifts on those of this day as He showered on those of previous generations. We must endeavor to gain heavenly enlightenment, to understand the mysteries of the holy books, to become the cause of guidance to others and to illumine hearts. I pray that you may strive until you are blessed with these favors.”
During this conversation people were surrounding the Master, eagerly and attentively listening to His words, which they considered to be both weighty and the truth.
The same woman came to Him again in the evening, saying that she wished to be educated so as to be able to convey the teachings to others. As her words and spiritual capacity were accepted by the Master, He gave her an account of Bahá’u’lláh, explaining the reasons for the opposition to His teachings and unfolding before her the teachings of the Supreme Pen. Meanwhile, two people with socialist views requested permission to be admitted into His presence. He spoke with them on matters concerning economics, universal peace, the unity of religions and the common weal. Their happiness was boundless. As they approached the railway station they asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to give them His address and those of the Bahá’ís so they could write to them. Their request was granted.
Talk at Assembly Hall, Hotel Sacramento, Sacramento, California 4
The issue of paramount importance in the world today is international peace. The European continent is like an arsenal, a storehouse of explosives ready for ignition, and one spark will set the whole of Europe aflame, particularly at this time when the Balkan question is before the world. Even now war is raging furiously in some places, the blood of innocent people is being shed, children are made captive, women are left without support, and homes are being destroyed. Therefore, the greatest need in the world today is international peace. The time is ripe. It is time for the abolition of warfare, the unification of nations and governments. It is the time for love. It is time for cementing together the East and the West.
Inasmuch as the Californians seem peace loving and possessed of great worthiness and capacity, I hope that advocates of peace may daily increase among them until the whole population shall stand for that beneficent outcome. May the men of affairs in this democracy uphold the standard of international conciliation. Then may altruistic aims and thoughts radiate from this center toward all other regions of the earth, and may the glory of this accomplishment forever halo the history of this country. May the first flag of international peace be upraised in this state. May the first illumination of reality shine gloriously upon this soil. May this center and capital become distinguished in all degrees of accomplishment, for the virtues of humanity and the possibilities of human advancement are boundless. There is no end to them, and whatever be the degree to which humanity may attain, there are always degrees beyond. There is no attainment in the contingent realm of which it may be said, “Beyond this state of being and perfection there is no other,” or “This has achieved the superlative degree.” No matter how perfect it may appear, there is always a greater degree of attainment to be reached. Therefore, no matter how much humanity may advance, there are ever higher stations to be attained because virtues are unlimited. There is a consummation for everything except virtues, and although this country has achieved extraordinary progress, I hope that its attainment may be immeasurably greater, for the divine bounties are infinite and unlimited.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny
Testimony of the manager of the hotel in which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stayed in Sacramento
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Jones, Caitlin Shayda. “To Fight For a Handful of Dust.” 239 Days in America, 26 Oct. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/10/26/to-fight-for-a-handful-of-dust/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 170-171. ↩
- ’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=8#section217 ↩
- 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, 376-377. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/27#733813562 ↩