Economics and Spirituality 1
“THE GREAT QUESTION RAISED by the Socialists was of paramount importance,” the Montreal Daily Star reported ‘Abdu’l-Bahá telling a packed parlor at the Maxwell home at 716 Pine Avenue West, on the evening of September 4, 1912. One night after receiving enthusiastic press coverage of his talk on economics, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained that while the Socialists asked the right questions, they were unable to provide society with any permanent settlement to its most important problems.
Unfortunately, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá noted, although the question of economic disparity was of great importance, “the governments of the world had failed to give it the earnest attention it deserved.” In 1912, weak labor laws and the absence of social benefits throughout the industrializing world meant that many members of society lived in conditions of abject poverty. Growing expectations of economic justice had to be met, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “otherwise disorder everywhere would be the culmination.”
In the same way that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s repeated warnings of a catastrophic war in Europe were prescient, so too his 1912 forecasts of widespread social disorder preceded by five years the world’s first Socialist Revolution in Russia. By the late 1910s and early 1920s, labor strife was ubiquitous in industrial societies worldwide.
As the translations of the newspaper articles concerning His address at the Socialist Club were read to Him on September 4, ’Abdu’l-Bahá said, “‘This is all through the confirmations of the Blessed Beauty. Otherwise even if the King of Persia had come here he would not have been able to attract such meetings.’” …
Abdu’l-Bahá also commented, in discussing the warm reception of His address, “‘The greatness of the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh will be known when they are practiced. Not one out of a hundred has as yet come into force. The entire trend of your thoughts should be turned towards bringing these blessed Teachings into practice.’”
1 September 1912, Talk at Home of Mr. and Mrs. William Sutherland Maxwell, 716 Pine Avenue West, Montreal, Canada 3
Life is the expression of composition; and death, the expression of decomposition. In the world or kingdom of the minerals certain materials or elemental substances exist. When through the law of creation they enter into composition, a being or organism comes into existence. For example, certain material atoms are brought together, and man is the result. When this composition is destroyed and disintegrated, decomposition takes place; this is mortality, or death. When certain elements are composed, an animal comes into being. When these elements are scattered or decomposed, this is called the death of the animal. Again, certain atoms are bound together by chemical affinity; a composition called a flower appears. When these atoms are dispersed and the composition they have formed is disintegrated, the flower has come to its end; it is dead. Therefore, it is evident that life is the expression of composition, and mortality, or death, is equivalent to decomposition. As the spirit of man is not composed of material elements, it is not subject to decomposition and, therefore, has no death. It is self-evident that the human spirit is simple, single and not composed in order that it may come to immortality, and it is a philosophical axiom that the individual or indivisible atom is indestructible. At most, it passes through a process of construction and reconstruction. For example, these individual atoms are brought together in a composition, and through this composition a given organism—such as a man, an animal or a plant—is created. When this composition is decomposed, that created organism is brought to an end, but the component atoms are not annihilated; they continue to exist because they are single, individual and not composed. Therefore, it may be said that these individual atoms are eternal. Likewise, the human spirit, inasmuch as it is not composed of individual elements or atoms—as it is sanctified above these elements—is eternal. This is a self-evident proof of its immortality.
Wednesday, September 4, 1912 4
An account of the Master’s talk at the Socialist Club and its influence was published in glowing terms in the newspapers. The force of His explanations and the persuasiveness of His proofs were the talk of the day. Many newcomers came to visit Him. The friends told the Master how happy they were to see the extent to which the Cause of God had penetrated the hearts. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said in reply:
“The greatness of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh will be known when they are acted upon and practiced. Not one of a hundred has as yet come into force. All of your thoughts should be turned toward bringing these blessed teachings into practice.”
When the translations of some of the newspaper articles were read to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, He said, again, ‘This is all through the confirmations of the Blessed Beauty. Otherwise, even if the king of Persia had come here he would not have been able to bring about even one such meeting.’ In the afternoon, for a change of routine, the Master took the elevator down from the seventh floor and went for an automobile ride to the foot of a mountain outside the city limits. It is a fine place where people go for recreation. It has a cable car, which took the Master and His companions up the mountain. The side of the mountain was perpendicular like a wall. The Master said, ‘This cable car is like a balloon flying in the air.’ It made one nervous to look down. When we reached the top, the Master walked around. It was a magnificent sight, with a view of the whole city stretched before us. The canals, streets and orchards of the town were below. It appeared as if a beautifully painted picture had been spread before one’s eyes.
While we were here, translations of other accounts of the meetings that had been published in the evening newspapers were read to Him. Suddenly He cried out:
“O Bahá’u’lláh! May I be a sacrifice for Thee. O Bahá’u’lláh! May my life be offered up for Thee. Thou hast spoken the Word which cannot be refuted. What a wonderful Cause Thou hast founded! It satisfies every assemblage! Each group testifies to its greatness. In the churches it shakes the souls; it excites the Theosophists; it imparts spirituality to the spiritualists; it makes the Unitarians aware of the reality of unity; it makes the socialists contented and grateful and inspires joy and happiness in the peace meetings. There is no refuge for any denomination except in submission to it. It is a miracle! It is the greatest force in the world of existence. This is all through the assistance of the Blessed Beauty. If healing the lame and crippled is a miracle, it can also be produced by a dose of medicine. This is no great achievement.”
From here the Master and His companions went to the home of Mr and Mrs Maxwell where letters from the East were given to Him. He read the petitions of the friends. Among them was a letter from Mírzá Haydar-‘Alí, in which he dwelt on the greatness and significance of the journey of the Master. The Master said:
“Yes, the value and greatness of these travels are not known now but will be apparent later on. As we had no other intention except to offer devotion to the Threshold of the One True God, we were assisted and the brightness of divine favor and grace appeared.”
Continuing, He said:
“At the time of Muhammad’s migration to Medina under divine protection, Abú Bakr, was with Him. He said to Abú Bakr, ‘Be not afraid, God is with us.’ These very words became afterwards the cause of his succession to the Caliphate because the word ‘with us’ included him also. Many proofs and arguments based on these words have been advanced. The value of this bounty, too, is not known now.”
At a meeting in the evening at Mrs Maxwell’s home, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave an address on spiritual brotherhood and the economic principles upheld by the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh which will be the cause of the salvation, prosperity and liberation of the nations of the world. This meeting was very special because the Master’s talk was so influential. The audience was invited to light refreshments of sweets and beverages. Among the guests were Americans, as well as Turks and Arabs clothed in their splendid robes, all of whom were attracted to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and fascinated by His demeanor and words.
’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
- Michel, Tony. “Economics and Spirituality.” 239 Days in America, 4 Sept. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/09/04/economics-and-spirituality/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 134-136. ↩
- 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, 306. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/22#066994489 ↩
- ’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=7#section164 ↩