“The World is a School” 1
“WHEN I ARRIVED IN this country,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told the congregation at the Divine Science Church in Denver, Colorado, “I realized that American ideals are indeed most praiseworthy. . . .” The nations of Europe were on the verge of war, he noted, driven by prejudice and fanaticism. “You are free from such prejudice,” he added, “for you believe in the oneness and solidarity of the world of humanity.”
The church that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke in on the evening of September 25, 1912, had a distinctive history. Its founder, Nona Lovell Brooks, was one of the first female pastors in America. She was also an early proponent of the New Thought movement. While the movement held beliefs that were considered unorthodox by mainstream Christianity — among them spiritual healing and the non-existence of evil — it was more mainstream than some of the groups ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had encountered in America, such as the Theosophists or the Free Religionists. The congregation in Denver believed that truth came through the Bible, and that Jesus was a guide for human behavior.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived at 8 p.m. in an automobile put at his disposal by the editor of the Denver Post. He delivered what was perhaps his most expansive exposition yet on the common foundation of the world’s religions, and the barriers to religious unity.
“The world is a school,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told his audience, “in which there must be Teachers of the Word of God.” It was a deceptively simple metaphor — one that implied not only that humankind was a single body functioning within a single structure of guidance, but that it progressed over time under the direction of successive teachers.
Minnesota, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah
On September 25 there appeared an article in the [Denver] Post entitled, “ABDUL BA-HA ABBAS—PERSIAN TEACHER—TO CONVERT DENVER.” The reporter, Frances Wayne, wrote:
“A Man of God has come to town.
“With the arrival yesterday of Abdul Ba-ha Abbas, a quicker spirit of tolerance, of brotherly love, of sincerer charity, of all those virtues which lift man above the beast was given wing and must, before his departure, have its effect upon every man and woman who comes within the radius of this wise man of the East.
“Abdul Ba-ha entered the city without any of the glitter or pomp which is the attribute of nobility. He came … companioned by five devoted servants of the faith he preaches and by a reputation for sanity and holiness which makes of the most hardened cynic a respectful spectator.” 2
After a meeting the next day, September 25, He took a walk, and then spoke with the crowds who had gathered. To one person He said, “‘Man is like a bird which is in the cage. A bird cannot get freedom by merely knowing that there are pure breezes, spacious firmament, beautiful gardens, pleasant parks and fountains outside. It must get a power to break the cage and to fly into the pleasant firmament.’” That afternoon He spoke at the home of Mrs. Roberts and that night at a public meeting at the Hotel Shirley. 3
September 25, 1912 4
Most of the people coming today to see the Master were prominent and well-known. Because they so were attracted and transformed by His talks on the divine teachings of the oneness of humanity, universal peace and the principles of the religions, today I wrote to the friends in the East inviting them to come and see how people who had previously had no appreciation for those from the East, especially the Persians, now come in groups to the threshold of the Master and stand waiting their turn to become the recipients of His favor. They consider an interview with Him a source of pride and glory. Many philosophers, professors, clergymen and lecturers come with bowed heads to show their sincere humility. The people from churches and other organizations are also attracted and fascinated, happy to see His life-giving countenance. The Center of the Covenant has caused the Persians to be renowned for their respectability and has crowned the peoples of the East with eternal honor and glory. And how the newspapers of this region praise the Master and the learned and literary people of the West emphasize the importance of these teachings! Notwithstanding this, most of the Persians are asleep and do not understand the cause of their greatness and honor. They are asleep on the bed of negligence and resting in the lap of pride.
After the meeting the Master took a walk. His heart was filled with joy as He said:
“Did you see what a fire was set aglow in the hearts? A person must first be happy and attracted himself to be in a position to transform others. He himself must be impressed in order to impress others. You must act in a way that will make me happy, then you will see what will happen.”
To one who visited Him at the hotel, He remarked:
“I have come to your city and found tall buildings and advancement in material civilization. Now I will lead you to my own city which is the world above. Its administration is the oneness of humanity, its law is international peace, its palaces are ever shining with the lights of the Kingdom, its season is always spring, its trees are ever green, its fruits are fresh and sweet, its sun is ever ascending, its moon is always full, its stars are ever brilliant and its planets are ever circling. That is our city and the Founder is Bahá’u’lláh. We have enjoyed the pleasures of this city and now I invite you to that city. I hope that you will accept this invitation.”
To another He said:
“Man must take flight from the cage of the body and become pure spirit, for the body is a cage which causes difficulties for man and makes him the captive of nature and involves him in all types of misfortunes. But when a person discards all his physical habits, he is freed from all fetters. As physical powers attract the world of nature, so spiritual powers must break these chains. This condition is not realized by thought alone. The powers of nature are ever alert to allure man. The eye is fascinated by beautiful scenery; the ear is entranced by music; the heart is attracted by delights and human passions. A man may be rich but still he wants more because he is attracted by the world of nature; he has means of livelihood yet he desires more. Therefore, the spiritual powers must dominate so that he may be freed from these fetters and attain salvation. Man is like a bird in a cage. A bird cannot attain freedom merely by knowing that in the free world there are pure breezes, spacious skies, beautiful gardens, pleasant parks and fountains; rather, the bird must find a power to break the cage and soar into the wide firmament.”
He then narrated a story about detachment:
“The Persian friends travel mostly on foot. They sleep whenever they get tired. They rest wherever they see a shady tree. Once a person came to an Amír. The Amír wished to present him with a gift and with insistence gave him a robe. Later, when he became tired, he lay down under a tree in the forest with the robe folded under his head. But he could not sleep as he repeatedly imagined that a thief was crouching nearby to take away the robe. At last he rose, threw the robe away and said, ‘As long as this robe is with me, I shall not find rest. To find rest I must give it up.’ How long will you desire a robe for your body? Release your body that you may have no need for a robe.”
A public meeting was held in the afternoon at the home of Mrs Roberts. ’Abdu’l-Bahá walked awhile in the garden outside the house. Although most of the friends watched Him respectfully from a distance, when several ladies from Washington DC saw Him, they ran towards Him, expressing their faith and happiness in the divine teachings which they had heard from His own lips in Washington.
In brief, the Master’s talk that afternoon was to say farewell to the friends, to encourage them in their endeavors to diffuse the fragrances of God and to explain issues related to teaching. They were all set ablaze by His words.
In the evening the proprietor of the Hotel Shirley and the publisher of a newspaper announced that there would be a public meeting in the large hall of the hotel. The spacious room was filled to capacity. I will never forget the joy and excitement of the audience. At times the audience was plunged into a state of sadness and wonder and then into a state of such happiness and joy that peals of laughter could be heard outside the building. It is not possible to describe the excitement and attraction of the people. They all expressed their sadness that the Master was leaving the city. Those men and women staying at the hotel who because of their wealth and pride had previously not deigned to look at us, now sought us out. Everyone was fascinated by the majesty and grandeur of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and gave their hearts to Him.
Talk at Second Divine Science Church, 3929 West Thirty-eighth Avenue, Denver, Colorado 5
One of the forms of prejudice which afflict the world of mankind is religious bigotry and fanaticism. When this hatred burns in human hearts, it becomes the cause of revolution, destruction, abasement of humankind and deprivation of the mercy of God. For the holy Manifestations and divine Founders of religion Themselves were completely unified in love and agreement, whereas Their followers are characterized by bitter antagonism and attitudes of hostility toward each other. God has desired for mankind the effulgence of love, but through blindness and misapprehension man has enveloped himself in veils of discord, strife and hatred. The supreme need of humanity is cooperation and reciprocity. The stronger the ties of fellowship and solidarity amongst men, the greater will be the power of constructiveness and accomplishment in all the planes of human activity. Without cooperation and reciprocal attitude the individual member of human society remains self-centered, uninspired by altruistic purposes, limited and solitary in development like the animal and plant organisms of the lower kingdoms. The lower creatures are not in need of cooperation and reciprocity. A tree can live solitary and alone, but this is impossible for man without retrogression. Therefore, every cooperative attitude and activity of human life is praiseworthy and foreintended by the will of God. The first expression of cooperation is family relationship, which is unreliable and uncertain in its potency, for it is subject to separation and does not permanently cement together the individual members of humanity. There is also a cooperation and oneness in nativity or race which is likewise not efficient, for although its members may agree in general, they differ radically in personal and particular points of view. Racial association, therefore, will not ensure the requirements of divine relationship. There are other means in the human world by which physical association is established, but these fail to weld together the hearts and spirits of men and are correspondingly inefficient. Therefore, it is evident that God has destined and intended religion to be the cause and means of cooperative effort and accomplishment among mankind. To this end He has sent the Prophets of God, the holy Manifestations of the Word, in order that the fundamental reality and religion of God may prove to be the bond of human unity, for the divine religions revealed by these holy Messengers have one and the same foundation. All will admit, therefore, that the divine religions are intended to be the means of true human cooperation, that they are united in the purpose of making humanity one family, for they rest upon the universal foundation of love, and love is the first effulgence of Divinity.
’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
- Sockett, Robert. “‘The World Is a School.’” 239 Days in America, 25 Sept. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/09/25/deceptively-simple-metaphor-new-thought/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 154. ↩
- Ibid, 158. ↩
- ’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#section185 ↩
- 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, 337-338. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/26#322101001 ↩