At Home in America 1
BEFORE HE EVEN STEPPED off the ship, reporter Wendell Phillips Dodge had tried to peg him as a “Wise Man Out of the East.” Nixola Greeley-Smith, a columnist for the New York World, joked about his “regulation prophet’s whiskers,” adding to a chorus of early coverage that struggled to come to terms with the “exotic Easterner” in their midst. Yet quite quickly, America’s press realized that there was much more to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The Evening Mail’s editorial page commented on “the strange anomaly of an oriental mystic who believes in woman suffrage and modern development,” noting that he was “as much at home on Broadway, in New York, as he was in the lonely cell at Acre.” …
On his final night in America, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke to the Theosophical Society in New York. He argued that the universe had a purpose — perhaps the type of talk Americans had expected of him when he first arrived. Then he told them that narrow religious dogma had no place in the modern age, and that humankind must transcend its lower nature, mired in jealousy, hypocrisy, greed, and injustice, and cultivate a world of justice, sincerity, faithfulness, and mercy. And then he said goodbye.
“I have traveled to all the large cities,” he said, “speaking before various assemblages, proclaiming to them the oneness of the world of humanity, summoning all to union, harmony and oneness. I have indeed received the greatest kindness from the American people. I look upon them as a noble nation, capable of every perfection.” Tomorrow, he would leave for Europe. “My happiness is great,” he told them. “I shall never forget you.”
Final Days in America: New York City 2
On December 4, Abdu’l-Bahá continued to talk with the streams of visitors. That night He addressed the Theosophical Society of New York, saying in conclusion:
“For nine months I have been touring in America, calling the people to the oneness of humanity. I have delivered addresses in large churches and worshiping places of many cities, having invited the people to the love and unity of mankind. …
“Since I shall leave your shores tomorrow, I bid you good-bye. I pray that divine confirmations, heavenly honor, and eternal life be given to you so that you may reach the highest station of the world of man. I am grateful to you and shall never forget you. I shall ever supplicate to the Court of God and beef divine assistance and heavenly bounty for you.”
Wednesday, December 04, 1912 3
Among the new seekers who met the Master today was a rabbi to whom the Master spoke extensively about the Torah, saying:
“The verse ‘God created heaven and earth in six days’ has reference to the Day of God and the spiritual creation, for there was no day or night before the creation of this heaven and earth. And the meaning of ‘the water’ in the verse of the Torah ‘The spirit of God moved upon the face of the water like a bird’ is the water of knowledge which is the source of heavenly life. It is written that God said, ‘Let us make man in our image’; this means in the image of divine names and attributes, for God is holy above all physical images and is pure and sanctified above all forms or likenesses.”
Elucidating further the nature of biblical language and the mysteries of the holy books, He explained the signs and prophecies regarding the promised Manifestation. The rabbi was impressed and acknowledged the Master’s insight.
Later some prominent people, including professors, came to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. They told him about Professor Colombo who had written an article about the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár near Chicago in which he referred to the contributions of the Eastern Bahá’ís towards its construction as one of the indications of the greatness of the Cause. The Master spoke with them about the dogmas and blind imitations of the priests and the superstitions of the religious leaders.
At the Kinney’s home in the afternoon, a number of Mr Kinney’s students met the Master. Some came during the meeting and others after it. The Master spoke to them about understanding the holy Book:
“The object of reading and reciting is to understand the inner significance of the verses and mysteries of the Book. Had reading sufficed, all the Jewish people should have acknowledged Christ but as they lacked understanding of the mysteries and the inner meanings, they were deprived of the bounty of believing in Him. They interpreted the book in a literal or outward manner and did not find the appearance of Christ to conform to their traditions, imitations and the prevailing customs of their people, so they denied and rejected Him. Hence, they remained heedless and ignorant of divine realities and mysteries.”
This evening there was a large gathering at the Theosophical Society of New York. The subject of the Master’s address was ‘The Eternity of God’s Kingdom’: material existence, the betterment of the world through the divine favors, the guidance provided by the Manifestations of God and their reflection upon the world of creation. ‘This is the law of God, and thou shalt not find any change in it.‘ This is a translation of the Master’s address:
“He is God! Those who are uninformed of the world of reality, and do not study created things, cannot investigate and discover hidden truths. They only have a superficial idea of things, are embodiments of ignorance and blind imitators. They believe that which they have heard from their fathers and do not have any knowledge or understanding of their own and are bereft of hearing and insight. They rely on traditions and tales and follow the path of their ancestors. They imagine that God’s dominion is accidental, that this world has existed for but six thousand or eight thousand years and that before that time God had neither creation nor sovereignty.
“Should this notion be accepted, then, the Lord forbid, the Divine Reality is to be regarded as accidental, not eternal, whereas as long as there was God, He must have had a creation; as long as there was light, there must have been recipients of that light, because light cannot become manifest without illumining its recipients. So likewise without a creation, the existence of the Creator cannot be proven.
“The Divine Reality presupposes a creation, the All-Provider presupposes a recipient of His bounty. To imagine a God without His creatures is like imagining a king without a country and a people. A king must have a kingdom. Could there be a king without a country and subjects? It is an impossibility. If there had been a time when there were no country and no army, how could we say there was a king at that time? Thus he must have had his people. Thus, as the Divine Eternity is infinite, His creation is also without beginning and without end. From everlasting God was the Creator, the All-Provider, the Quickener and the Bestower. There was no time when His attributes did not express themselves. Cessation is wholly inconceivable. The sun is the sun because of its light and heat. If we conceive the cessation of heat and light, we predicate the non-existence of the sun. If it had no light and no heat, it was not the sun. Likewise, when we say that at one time God had no creation and no recipient of His grace, we assert that there was no Creator. This is denying the eternity of the Divine Entity and regarding Him as an accidental being. It is obvious that this endless universe, this mighty handiwork of God, this vast firmament, these gigantic globes are not merely six or seven thousand years old. They are ancient. The reference in the Torah to six thousand years has an inner meaning and should not be taken literally. It is stated that God created the heavens and the earth in six days. If before such a creation there was no sun, no east and no west, how was it possible to determine the length of each day without the existence of a sun? Thus the statement has a different meaning.
“The sovereignty of God is eternal and not accidental. His creation, His Kingdom, His Army are coexistent and will continue as such. The bestowals and bounties of God are constant and are uninterrupted. Like the light and heat of the sun, they have no cessation. The holy Manifestations of God, Who are the dawning places of divine bounties, have ever been and shall ever be. The wisdom and purpose of their appearance is to cause the image and likeness of God to appear in the world of man.
“The reality of man possesses two aspects: one being the image and likeness of God and the other is the material and satanic aspect. Besides the physical body, man has a reality which is called the spiritual body, or the heavenly creation or form. When man says, ‘I saw’, who is it that says ‘I saw’? Clearly it is something besides the physical body. When one thinks, it is like consulting with oneself. It is clear that there is a second entity which is being consulted. It is not the physical body that advises man ‘to do’ or ‘not to do’ a thing and informs him whether it is profitable or harmful.
“Frequently a person firmly decides on a course of action, but later, upon some reflection, changes his mind. The reason is that he has consulted a reality, has become aware of the harm involved and has changed his former decision.
“In addition to this, man journeys in the world of dreams. Though the body is here, the soul wanders in the East and West of the world. Who is it that makes these journeys? It is the second entity. Although a man has died and his body is under the earth, one’s soul can, in a dream, ask him questions and receive answers. What is it that is talked to? It is the second reality. Hence, it is clear that besides the physical body man possesses another reality. Though the body grows weak, becomes fat or defective, still that reality remains unaltered. In sleep the body of man appears dead but that reality moves, understands, talks and discovers. This reality is the spiritual form and the heavenly temple, not the physical body. It reveals hidden realities, comprehends things, discovers arts and sciences, subdues electricity and other forces and communicates simultaneously with the East and the West. Plainly it is not the body. If it had been the body, similar powers and perfections should have existed in animals, for they share our physical powers. Hence, it is the second reality that reveals hidden realities, permeates the universe, becomes informed of mysteries, leads to the Kingdom and is a guide to the people of the world. It is this reality that distinguishes man from the animal. But this reality is in a state between the divine world and that of the animal. If spiritual forces prevail, this human reality becomes the noblest of all creatures and the possessor of the image and likeness of God; but if the animal aspect predominates, man becomes lower than animals because in man, animal desires and passions are even stronger and more harmful. For instance, anger, lust, struggle for existence, war, contention, fraud, deception, greed and avarice are among the imperfections of man but the necessary qualities in animals. A crafty man without spiritual education is as the fox. In the animal we find covetousness, aggression and passion. These qualities are also in man. Since the reality of man is comprehensive, his expression of these animal qualities is more vehement. They are among the exigencies of the world of nature and lead to the gloom of imperfections. They are the cause of utter degradation and misfortune.
“On the other hand, man is the repository of divine perfections and heavenly favors that bring him eternal happiness and everlasting honor. Such perfections as justice, fidelity, truthfulness, purity, wisdom, piety, mercy, bounty, love, amity, nobility and sagacity enable man to comprehend the realities of things and unfold hidden mysteries. Human reality is therefore between light and darkness and has a threefold nature: the heavenly, the human and the physical. The physical condition is darkness upon darkness and the source of trouble, disgrace, discord, bloodshed and war. The heavenly condition, however, which is the zenith of the human aspect of man’s nature, is light upon light and the means of acquiring everlasting prosperity, peace and tranquillity, honor and glory.
“The holy divine Manifestations have appeared to make it easy to replace the gloom of animality with the lights of heavenly qualities and to change the imperfections of the world of nature to the perfections of the spirit so that the heavenly aspect may prevail, the image and likeness of God may appear in the world of man and the divine illumination and spiritual virtues may become manifest. These holy dawning places are the Educators of the world of existence and the Teachers of man. They deliver human beings from the darkness of error and heedlessness and the defects and vices of nature and lead them to the realm of spiritual virtues and heavenly perfections. Those who are ignorant become wise, those who are like animals attain human perfections, the rapacious become angelic, the tyrannical and proud become just and humble, so that earthly man becomes heavenly, the human is changed into the divine, the suckling child attains its maturity and the poor and abased attain wealth and glory. If the holy Manifestations had not appeared, all humanity would have remained in a state of animality, if not worse. If the children are not educated and are not trained in schools, they will remain ignorant. If plains and hills are left to their natural state, they will turn into jungles and forests which will not bear sweet and luscious fruit, but when the gardener takes control, flowers bloom, fruits appear and prosperity sheds its blessings. Creation is a dreary forest full of thorns under the yoke of nature and the holy Manifestations are the divine gardeners and the supreme educators of the world of man who come to promote the progress of the world of existence in order that the trees of beings may continue to be verdant, may burst into fresh foliage, may yield good fruits and may adorn the gardens of the human realities. This divine bestowal of this heavenly education is continuous.
“It is impossible that this great bounty should cease, that this divine bestowal should end and that the Sun of Reality should sink forever into a setting not followed by a sunrise, a death not followed by a revival. How can the Sun of Reality, shining from the divine world, remain set forever and be precluded from educating the world of existence? No, by God! The function of the sun is to give illumination. How can it set forever and its effulgence brought to an end? Its bounty is eternal, its luster is ever manifest, its rays are perpetually radiant, its breezes are continually wafting and its bestowals are ever apparent. We must be expectant and hopeful, turning our gaze in the direction of His bountiful Kingdom that through the appearance of these holy Manifestations humanity may attain the blessings of the All-Glorious, that the earth be changed and the contingent world may become a garden and a paradise of delight. But the appearance of the divine Manifestation must take place in the most perfect form and invested with unparalleled powers and virtues. With a divine influence and heavenly mighty He must be exalted above all else and peerless in all His attributes, just as the sun is exalted above other stars. Though every star and planet shines in its place and gives light in the night, the sun has another splendor and its radiance is greater. The Manifestation of the bounty of God must also be like the physical sun so that the world may be convinced that He is a divine Teacher, an Educator of the world of man, a sun of reality and the brightest Light shining from the realm on high. His effulgence and influence must be inherent and not acquired from other human beings, otherwise we would say that others imparted such powers to Him. How can a man, who is educated by other human beings, become the educator of humanity at large? The Manifestations of the bounty of God must be self-subsistent, not under the shadow of others. He must be an educator, not educated by others. He must be perfect, not deficient. He must be independent of all, not dependent on training by others. He must combine in Himself all perfections, unrestricted by human limitations, so that He may be able to educate humanity, dispel the gloom of ignorance, through divine power change the world, bring about universal peace, establish the oneness of humanity and unite the diverse religions. I hope that the divine bounties and blessings may shine brightly so that the lights of the Sun of Reality may give luster to our eyes, illumination to our hearts and joy to our souls and may ennoble our thoughts and grant us eternal life. Then we may attain to the apex of the world of man.
“For nine months I have been touring America, calling the people to the oneness of humanity. I have delivered addresses in churches and large assemblies in many cities, inviting the people to the oneness of mankind and to love and unity. The people of America extended a cordial welcome to me. In fact, Americans are a noble nation, with capacity to acquire every virtue and investigate every truth.
“Since I shall leave your shores tomorrow, I bid you farewell. I pray that divine confirmations, heavenly glory and eternal life may be granted to you, so that you may reach the highest pinnacles of the world of man. I am most grateful to you and shall never forget you. I shall ever supplicate at the court of the Almighty and beg divine assistance and heavenly bounty for you.”
The Master’s talk enthused the audience and one by one they came to Him to express their sincere thanks and admiration. When they were told of His imminent departure, they became downcast. It was astonishing to witness the deep sorrow of the friends and the lamentation of their hearts as they contemplated their separation from Him.
Talk to Theosophical Society, 2228 Broadway, New York 4
As we have before indicated, this human reality stands between the higher and the lower in man, between the world of the animal and the world of Divinity. When the animal proclivity in man becomes predominant, he sinks even lower than the brute. When the heavenly powers are triumphant in his nature, he becomes the noblest and most superior being in the world of creation. All the imperfections found in the animal are found in man. In him there is antagonism, hatred and selfish struggle for existence; in his nature lurk jealousy, revenge, ferocity, cunning, hypocrisy, greed, injustice and tyranny. So to speak, the reality of man is clad in the outer garment of the animal, the habiliments of the world of nature, the world of darkness, imperfections and unlimited baseness.
On the other hand, we find in him justice, sincerity, faithfulness, knowledge, wisdom, illumination, mercy and pity, coupled with intellect, comprehension, the power to grasp the realities of things and the ability to penetrate the truths of existence. All these great perfections are to be found in man. Therefore, we say that man is a reality which stands between light and darkness. From this standpoint his nature is threefold: animal, human and divine. The animal nature is darkness; the heavenly is light in light.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to Its Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Sockett, Robert. “At Home in America.” 239 Days in America, 4 Dec. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/12/04/at-home-in-america/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 193. ↩
- ’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=10#section256 ↩
- 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, 465. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/33#049738900 ↩