Some Personal Notes on the Centenary
Notes on the Master's First Substantive Talk in America
By John Taylor; 09 April 2012
Some Personal Notes
I very much wanted to record my voice reading the first address of the Master, which happened a hundred years ago. I was preparing on the computer some illustrations to illuminate the points made in it. That way, I could answer for myself the question, what might an address by the Master look like if it were given today, complete with PowerPoint bullet points? A hair raising question, I know, and it probably is best left by the roadside. Still, it interests me. So far, I had only found that this is much more work than I had thought. Then, I was struck down by a twenty four hour flu. Barely recovered, both my kids were knocked down by the same bug. They spent a miserable night of vomiting and diarrhea.
As I was undergoing my travail, I found myself thinking a comforting thought,
"Maybe this session serves a creative purpose. Maybe it will act as a sort of reboot for my life. Maybe what I have not been able to do, my hopes and dreams so long unfulfilled, will be morally possible after this is over."
It sounded strange once the agony was over, but I repeated it to my daughter between her trips to the bathroom that night. What else could I say to comfort her? It seemed to have an effect on her spirits. I read some jokes to her, and they lifted her spirits too.
That night, my son was having a sleepover with his air cadet corps. In the morning, we got a call that he had been sick all night too. I drove him home. A miserable Easter Sunday morning where nobody even thought of the egg hunt and egg painting that they had been anticipating.
I was still enervated by this virus, so we did little else yesterday other than watch old videos.
Saturday, though, I was somewhat disoriented but functional. I dropped Thomas off at the Legion for his drill weekend, then wandered in the car over to Dunnville's Shared Harvest Community Farm. There I listened to an impromptu disquisition by its young organic farmer. He should be on YouTube, thought I. We spoke about Hugelkultur, or log gardening, which he has used extensively throughout the farm. He is even making up a sinuous design of garden beds meant to resemble a green snake.
He spoke of the plot by seed corporations to destroy thousands of years of seed genetics by patenting every seed available for sale, then making it illegal to save your own seed. They are so powerful now that they persuaded the Canadian government to refuse entry to a seed expert from India, who had been invited to speak about the now subversive activity of saving your seeds.
Then I wandered over to the former arena grounds and attended an outside meeting to discuss future use of this now-vacant land right in the center of Dunnville. Powerful interests, the new cabal of state capitalist parasites who socialize risk and privatize profit, are nuzzling under the skin of city hall. They are trying to persuade politicians to sell them this public land beside our farmer's market so that they can build a condominium complex there.
Almost everybody else around here is for turning it into some sort of park or recreation area, perhaps gardens combined with a skateboard park, or, considering that it is on a natural incline, an open stadium for public performances. We talked over several ideas, including a boardwalk to the bridge.
Notes on the Master's First Substantive Talk in America
What is a Baha'i? What does it take to be an angel?
'Abdu'l-Baha leaving a taxicab at Hotel Ansonia, New York 1912 <http://abdulbahawest.blogspot.ca/>
Here is a picture I had never seen before, of the Master near the Ansonia, the hotel He stayed at first in America.
"It is wrong to think that love comes from long companionship and persevering courtship. Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity and unless that affinity is created in a moment, it will not be created for years or even generations." Kahlil Gibran
A hundred years ago, Abdu'l-Baha gave his first talks in North America. I have been going over His first couple of addresses in Promulgation. I was struck by the repeated use of the expression "spiritual affinity." The above quote from Kahlil Gibran is the main thing that turned up when I searched. On one hand, Gibran has had a big influence on American spiritual sensibilities over the last century, and the Master may have used the expression to reach that element of society. On the other hand, Gibran had great respect for the Master. Without further research as to when this quote was written, it is impossible to say who influenced whom, since Gibran did meet the Master in New York not long after the "spiritual affinities" talk, the second in Promulgation. I think, though, that a better title for this address might be:
"How to Become Angels Arrayed in Divine Virtue"
It is amusing, when reading the Writings, to count up the number of questions asked. I counted almost two hundred questions in the Iqan, for example. In this "angels arrayed in divine virtue" talk, the Master asks twelve questions. No wonder that Socrates and Plato put such emphasis on what they called "dialectic," on back and forth, Q&A, on discussion, when confronting the highest truth. Here is how one of the Master's party, Mahmud, describes this -- or some other early meeting in New York -- he gave at least two that day, in two different believers' homes. He waxes poetic about the feelings that the meeting aroused.
"After leaving the ship the Master went to the Hotel Ansonia. After some tea, He went to the meeting with the friends. And what a wonderful meeting it was! The friends were so full of joy and happiness that it seemed the very walls were immersed in rapture and ecstasy. Because it was so crowded, many had to stand. When the initial excitement abated, the Master gave thanks and gratitude to the Blessed Beauty for His assistance and then spoke about the power and influence of the holy utterances to attract and cement the hearts, unifying the East and West." (Mahmud's Diary, 38)
Here are some of the topic headings I wrote for my reading text of this disquisition.
Bullet Points for the Master's First Talk in America (first draft)
Unity is our reason for being
Atomic Affinity; Life itself comes of love among the parts of the body
Spiritual Affinity; our potential comes of the Kingdom of God
Death and darkness come of turning the mirror's back to the sun
God's Prophets came to teach unity in the heart
Christ's foundation was the oneness of humanity
The army of Jesus started off unimportant and ignorant but their purity and attraction gave them the victory
Opposition to Christianity ended in defeat for the rich and powerful
By Christ's eternal power the obscure became renowned, the prominent were forgotten
There was a reason for the suffering of Jesus
The essential teaching of Jesus
Some answered questions about the civilization vaunting itself in Christ
Example from the news: the invasion of Tripoli by Italy
Questions Three to Six
Answer: this is the civilization of antichrist, death and Satan
The same is true of conflict between believers
Q&A seven and eight
Definition of a Christian
Spiritual susceptibilities are the real fruits of heaven
Capsule Definition of Baha'i
Suffering plays the same role in Baha'u'llah's sacrifice
Questions nine and ten: this unique period in history
Definition of service to the Cause of God
Questions Eleven and Twelve; one must know in order to teach the Cause of God
Susceptibility leads to divine confirmation and virtue. This way, one will become one of the promised angels of heaven
As might be expected, 'Abdu'l-Baha starts with the basis of His listeners' religious understanding, which at the time was, by and large, a sort of liberal Protestant Christianity mixed into a thousand other notions, from spiritualism to New Thought (now called New Age Thought). He defines what a Christian is, then what a Baha'i is. The latter amounts to the same thing as the former.
It is interesting to contrast the definition He gives here of what Baha'i is with how Abdu'l-Baha defined it in the face of some narrow minded missionaries. They, of course, regarded their faith, Christianity, as a rival religion utterly incompatible, as a congregation of deluded sheep led by cynical power mongers. For the Master, Baha'is are leaderless, a "community of cooperative servants." There can be questions among Baha'is, but not the sort of disputation and wrangling over doctrine that has dragged Christians into the dust ever since Athanasius' day.
QUESTION: "Is there any leader or head in the Baha'i Religion?"
ANSWER: "The Baha'is are a community of cooperative servants, they have no leader. Their only leader is God. They have no ordained ministers or priests. Whosoever hears and believes in the principles of this Cause, it is required of him to convey this Message to others.
The Baha'is have no organized missionary headquarters. Because their cardinal creed is the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, they have no theological wrangles and no metaphysical speculations."
(The Era of Independence; An Interview with Abdu'l-Baha What Abdu'l-Baha said to five American Christian Missionaries From the Diary of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, in Star of the West, Vol. 12, p. 13. For the whole interview online, see: http://badiblog.blogspot.com/2008/12/era-of-independence-interview-with.html)
Another aspect of this talk struck me as I was going over it. Imagine how controversial some of what He says here about the nature of Western Civilisation (the forces of Satan and Antichrist) would have been if He had given it in New York ninety years later!
I just read Linda McQuaig's "Its the Crude, Dude!", which describes how the United States invaded Iraq out of pure greed, in order to gain control of its oil fields. This base motive was clear to all, Iran most of all -- hence their present rush to a nuclear defense. But when it happened, all of a sudden no respectable commentator in the press could consider any motive for the invasion other than unselfishly spreading freedom and democracy. Forget oil-free places like Congo and Darfur where government itself, much less democracy, were long ago tossed out the window. The point is that we Americans are unselfishly spending masses of blood and funds to save democracy in Iraq. End of story.
Same base, bloody story with Italy's invasion of Tripoli, which Abdu'l-Baha refers to in this address.
The general opinion was that Italy, the center of Western Christianity, had to be in the right to invade a defenseless neighbour across the Med. Its victory, right or wrong, was a triumph of the West. Of course, when the Italians later proved not to be such successful imperialists, that opinion was moderated. Today we remember the sinking of the Titanic as the most memorable event of that time, but this war (now known as the prelude to World War One) was what contemporary journalists thought was the most important headline.