Conversations in Transit 1
Once it became possible to travel long distances on America’s trains, railroad companies introduced dining cars so their passengers wouldn’t have to stop for meals. Berths in the sleeping cars, which had been invented by George Pullman and were manufactured by his company, could be rented at an extra cost to ensure a good night’s rest. In a standard Pullman car, the seats facing each other on the floor could be extended to make a bed, and beds resting on hinges could be pulled down from the ceiling at night.
But the trains that carried ‘Abdu’l-Bahá through the rugged country, from where he watched the sun rise and set many times from his passenger car, were still a long way from the smooth rides on Amtrak today. One railway passenger of the period, who traveled west to San Francisco, recounted having to hold herself in her compartment over the rough patches of terrain so she wouldn’t be tossed into the aisle.
Nevertheless, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá often declined the luxury of a bed. When he departed Denver for Chicago, he chose not to reserve a sleeper for the night. “It is not a matter of our reluctance to pay one dollar,” he explained, “but of our unwillingness to be dependent on bodily comfort. We must be equal to the hardships of traveling like a soldier in the path of truth and not be slaves to bodily ease and comfort.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá was just as busy when riding the trains as he was while off them. He met a wide variety of people on trains, many of whom had seen his picture in the newspapers and approached him to converse.
The Journey East: Teaching on the Train 2
On the train the next day, October 30, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote of an account of His travels in America, which Mahmúd noted, “are still among the papers of His personal belongings and have not as yet been published.”
In the afternoon He began to talk with people in the seats nearby, After a few general remarks He began to discuss the Teachings, and again the people were attracted to come and cluster around Him to learn more.
Wednesday, October 30, 1912 3
While having tea in the morning, the Master said:
“This journey has passed pleasantly. The three days from California to Denver were comfortable and delightful. I did not believe that my weak constitution could bear the hardships and length of this journey.”
At my request, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote an account of His travels in America to the friends in the East. This piece of writing and another article about the history and teachings of the Blessed Beauty are still among the papers of His personal belongings and have not as yet been circulated.
In the afternoon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá conversed with passengers seated near Him, and after a few introductory remarks, spoke to them about the teachings. As the call was raised in the train, others clustered around Him and were delighted to hear His discourse on the unity of mankind, universal peace and divine civilization. Most of the passengers were interested and wanted to know more.
A man of Sufi inclinations saw the others listening with rapt attention, and spellbound by the words of the Master, asked to come near. The Master had him sit close by. After a few words, the man said, ‘All are from God.’ The Master replied:
“Yes, this is true, but one man is so exalted that others bow down before Him and He is adored by them like Christ or Moses, who called people to the oneness of divinity and who became the cause of the education of a nation, while another is so degraded that he bows down before dust and worships ants and serpents. Are these two one and the same? No, certainly not! Divine Manifestations are a different creation. All humanity is created by God but how they differ in intelligence. One is the wisest of the wise and the founder of the laws of happiness and prosperity, while the other is the most ignorant of the ignorant and a destroyer of the edifice of peace and honor.
“Prophets, therefore, have a station of their own. Many people crossed the desert of Sinai but it was Moses who heard the voice of God because the divine Manifestations have a spiritual power peculiar to themselves. Mighty nations existed at the time of the appearance of the divine Manifestations but they were degraded and became obliterated. But observe what a banner of unique being Christ unfurled without friend or helper. All are from God but all have different stations. Both men and animals are from God but what a difference there is between them.”
A minister visited Him. The Master advised him to abstain from dogmatic imitation and described to him the real meaning of baptism. Everyone was impressed by the Master’s explanations and asked for addresses of the friends from whom they could learn more about the Bahá’í teachings.
In the evening He said, ‘Let us reserve sleepers for all of us. We slept in our seats last night and that is enough. Let us not suffer any more hardship.’ We suggested that we would just get a sleeper for Him but He replied, ‘No, we must share equally.’ Therefore, six sleepers were reserved for the night.
25 October 1912, Talk at Hotel Sacramento, Sacramento, California 4
The second teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is the principle of the oneness of the world of humanity. God is one; His servants are, likewise, one. God has created all; He is kind to all. Inasmuch as He is such a tender Father to all, why should His children disagree? Why should they war and fight? Like the Heavenly Father we must live in love and unity. Man is the temple of God, the image and likeness of the Lord. Surely if one should destroy the temple of God, he will incur the displeasure of the Creator. For this reason, we must live together in amity and love. Bahá’u’lláh has addressed the world of humanity, saying, “Verily, ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.” This signifies that the entire world of humanity is one tree. The various nations and peoples are the branches of that tree. Individual members of mankind are represented by the twigs and blossoms. Why should these parts of the same tree manifest strife and discord toward each other?
The third teaching of Bahá’u’lláh concerns universal peace among the nations, among the religions, among the races and native lands. He has declared that so long as prejudice—whether religious, racial, patriotic, political or sectarian—continues to exist among mankind, universal peace cannot become a reality in the world. From the earliest history of man down to the present time all the wars and bloodshed which have taken place were caused either by religious, racial, political or sectarian bias. Therefore, it is evident that so long as these prejudices continue, the world of humanity cannot attain peace and composure.
’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. “Conversations in Transit.” 239 Days in America, 30 Oct. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/10/30/conversations-in-transit/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 175. ↩
- ’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#section221 ↩
- 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, 372-373. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/27#305228666 ↩