The Master at Hotel Astor
By John Taylor; 2007 Feb 17
Friends, for the first time in one place all that is known as far as I know about the Master's talk at the Astor Hotel in New York City. I include Juliet Thompson's account as written up at the time in the Star of the West, and later in her diary. As always, the actual text of the Master's talk is not from Star of the West but the later collection of His talks, Promulgation of Universal Peace, which has been edited and corrected.
from: Star of the West, Vol. 12, pp. 139-140
On the 13th of May a meeting of the Peace Conference was held at the Hotel Astor, at which Abdul-Baha was the guest of honor and the chief speaker.
Dr. Grant was one of the speakers. He sat at the right of Abdul-Baha, Rabbi Wise to the left the Jewish rabbi, the Christian clergyman! Ah, the symbolism of that trio sitting together in the foreground of the platform, with the Center of the Covenant for its center! He who had come to unite the Jews and Christians!
Abdul-Baha was really too exhausted to have gone to that meeting. He had been in bed all day.
"Must you go to the Hotel Astor when you are so ill?" I asked him.
"I work by the confirmations of the Holy Spirit," he answered, "I do not work by hygienic laws. If I did I would get nothing done!"
From Balyuzi's biography of the Master
"At the reception many speakers paid their share of tribute to the towering genius of 'Abdu'l-Baha. Some spoke in such terms that later He was heard to remark on the use of the word 'Prophet'. He had oftentimes emphasized, He said, that He was 'the servant of Baha', and yet they still applied such epithets to Him. He greatly wished that they would not. One of the speakers at that memorable meeting, who warmly applauded the person and the teachings of 'Abdu'l-Baha, was the veteran American orientalist, Professor A. V. Williams Jackson of Columbia University, a scholar of high renown." (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu'l-Baha - The Centre of the Covenant, p. 191)
from the Diary of Juliet Thompson, 13 May 1912
On the thirteenth of May (Percy Grant's birthday) a meeting of the Peace Conference took place at the Hotel Astor. It was an enormous meeting with thousands present. The Master was the Guest of Honour and the first speaker, Dr Grant and Rabbi Wise the other speakers.
The Master sat at the centre on the high stage, Dr Grant on His right, Rabbi Wise on His left. Oh, the symbolism of that: the Jewish rabbi, the Christian clergyman, with the Centre of the Covenant between, on the platform of the World Peace Conference.
The Master was really too ill to have gone to this Conference. He had been in bed all morning, suffering from complete exhaustion, and had a high temperature. I was with Him all morning. While I was sitting beside Him I asked: "Must You go to the Hotel Astor when You are so ill?"
"I work by the confirmations of the Holy Spirit," He answered. "I do not work by hygienic laws. If I did," He laughed, "I would get nothing done."
After that meeting, the wonderful record of which has been kept, the Master shook hands with the whole audience, with every one of those thousands of people!
RECEPTION TO ABDUL-BAHA BY THE NEW YORK PEACE SOCIETY AT HOTEL ASTOR, MAY 13, 1912 (SW, Vol. 3, No. 8, p. 10)
DR. STEPHEN S. WISE, RABBI.
MRS. ANNA GARLAND SPENCER, ETHICAL SOCIETY.
REV. PERCY STICKNEY GRANT, CHURCH OF ASCENSION.
MR. TOPAKYAN, Persian Consul General
PROF. WILLIAM JACKSON, Columbia University.
Mrs. W. H. SHORT, SEC'R New York Peace Society.
Stenographic Notes by E. Foster.
INTRODUCTION BY DR. WISE, PRESIDING.
THE reception of this afternoon has been arranged by the Social Committee of the New York Peace Society, which is honored today by the presence of its guest, Abdu'l-Baha of Persia, known to many of us as one of the religious teachers of the world.
I know not why I should have been asked to preside at this meeting this afternoon, unless it was that the officers of the Peace Society sought to pay the delicate compliment that I was the first or second cousin of the honored guest of today because of my eastern lineage, and so I presume my being in the ministry of Israel accounts for the privilege which is mine of welcoming the distinguished guest of the afternoon.
Some years ago, I was in conference with the late President of Union Theological Seminary, Dr. Hall, who asked if I would not give one of a series of addresses on the "Religion of the East," and I said to him apologetically, "I hope you will forgive me if I speak of Christianity as an Eastern religion." He turned to me half in amusement half in anger and said, "Oh, Dr. Wise, you forget that all the religions of the world are Eastern religions."
The religions of the world have been borrowed by the West from the East, and a Religious Teacher from the East comes to us today. It is good to have Abdu'l-Baha with us in this company and in America, in order that we may be helped again, if not permanently, to revise our unfortunate use of the terms "Asiatic," "Eastern," "foreign" as if somehow, "Eastern" and "Asiatic" were synonymous with a lower order of being. Whenever I hear the term "Asiatic" used, deprecating the teaching of certain people, my own included, I love to remember that all of the great prophetic religious teachers of the world, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, Mohammed, every great religious founder in history was Asiatic.
We have a little religious congress here this afternoon. We have the leader of his own Faith; we have the teachers of Christianity; we have a woman representative of the Ethical Society. There are teachers in Israel today, and so we may be said to have a miniature religious congress. And best of all, friends, I hope we are meeting not at all in the spirit of tolerance or toleration, but in the spirit of fellowship. There was a time you remember, and not so many years ago, when it was imagined that the limit of religious growth and understanding and sympathy were reached when men tolerated each other. I can never forget the words "To tolerate is to insult." We do not tolerate and we do not want to be tolerated any more. No people wants to be tolerated. Every people wants to be honored, and wishes to stand in the attitude of sympathy, forbearance and brotherhood toward every other people.
Religion and war are incompatible terms.
Where religion is, war cannot be. We still have war in the world because we have no religion; because we have the name, the shadow, the pretext rather than the reality and substance of religion. When once Christianity really is followed, I believe war will cease.
For centuries and centuries there have been religious wars, wars fought in the name of religion. I think we have seen the end, or nearly the end of that. But even today, I am sorry to say, the world over, religion is willing to endure war. Furthermore I know of no great war in thousands of years in which the banners of the two parties have not been blessed by some church or churches. The time has come when the churches will cease to bless war banners, when the churches will remember the great word of him who said "Swords shall be beaten into plowshares," remember the word of the great Teacher who said "Blessed are the peacemakers." When the churches will refuse to bless war banners, religion will never curse, but will withhold our hands from invoking the blessings of God when we go forth to slay one another. For it is written "Thou shalt not kill," and moreover it is written, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
Today we have the distinguished honor of greeting Abdu'l-Baha a notable and deeply interesting teacher from the East, and mine is to be the privilege of asking for a word of greeting from a number of men and women whom the Peace Society, through its Social Committee, has asked to speak.
I think Abdul-Baha would admit that even if such a gathering were held in his own land, the first speaker would not be a woman, but tile first speaker today will be an honored woman and a distinguished ethical teacher,
Mrs. Anna Garland Spencer.
ADDRESS BY MRS. SPENCER.
It is my pleasant privilege to offer in behalf of our Society the second welcome to our honored guest, and I am reminded in this meeting that there are three elements of our life that cause discord. One of them is race prejudice, the idea we have brought with us from earliest primitive times that only those of our own blood are and should be honored and respected. This makes a lack of harmony in the social life which in the last analysis becomes a war. And next there is a deep seated desire that one flock shall rule over another that one set of people shall exploit another for the benefit of those who are at the top of life's opportunity. This is what gives us the power to hold back all privilege from the many, and then because the many are not cultured and refined and advanced as those who have claimed and hold a monopoly of privilege, therefore it is deemed a right to still hold them. This makes a war of classes.
Another thing that leads to discord and often to war is religion, bigotry, the mistaken idea that any one set of people are the children of the divine and all the rest are step-children. There are no stepchildren.
Our honored friend has come to us with a familiar message, the message of our own Emerson so long ago declared, "There are as many roads to the infinite as there are travelers upward."
I remember it was a Persian poet who said: "The Lord of Light is not to be worshipped with flowers that have faded, and those that grow in thine own garden are dead." We would gladly pluck each from our own garden the choicest blooms of our aspiration and faith, and lay them in the hands of our Prophet Friend.
Mrs. Spencer has put it well indeed. We are beginning to understand no one people is God chosen, but every people in the world may be God choosing.
It was very good indeed that the first platform in America that welcomed the guest of the hour should have been the platform or pulpit of one of the churches of New York that stands for much that is finest in the life of our great city, the pulpit of a church which because of its leader stands for the finest and most catholic and noblest thing in the life of the land. I am glad Dr. Percy Stickney Grant is with us today.
ADDRESS BY DR. PERCY STICKNEY GRANT.
I feel that the distinguished guest of this afternoon must look upon this meeting as a foreign sight a meeting where women take an important part in trying to bring about political peace. It is a distinction of the Western religions that they have given so large a place to women, and historically it was the fortune of Christianity to succeed over some of its competitors because it did, even in the early days, give so large a place to women. And this success of Christianity was not on account of the women in the Christian chinch alone and their demands; it was on account of the men in the Christian church in the West who did not want a religion which did not include their wives, daughters and sweethearts, so that the religion of the West comes very naturally into such logical sequences as the importance of women in our Western life, a growing importance in all things that are constructive to the wellbeing of our Western life. I fear therefore that we are displaying to our distinguished visitor from the East one of the peculiar products of our Western civilization.
There are misunderstandings that easily arise under circumstances such as now exist, the coming of a Prophet with a Great Message from one part of the world to another. And one cause of misunderstanding is to be found in the hard and fast names that we choose to give each other, -- designations from which it is hard to escape, -- crude and half voicing the heart into words that bind with fatal constructions the minds and sympathies of those who hold them.
A friend of mine doing work on the East Side had charge of a dance hall for working boys and girls. He became there acquainted with boys and girls on the side of their personality before he became acquainted with them on the side of their occupation and social status. One day he met a man who was introduced to him as a person who had made a personal sacrifice, selling his overcoat to give the money to an old woman. He was also introduced to another who had done something beautiful and heroic, so that he was conversing with two splendid souls. Afterward he found one ran an elevator, and one was a porter. Now, he said, if I had become acquainted with them, first, as an elevator boy, or as a porter, I should not have understood them; I should not have appreciated them; I should not have looked upon them with great admiration. The tag would hide the spirit.
Our guest from the East comes to us with a message that is a familiar message to our ears; the message of "Peace on earth and goodwill to men." Is there a community or a religion that should more easily comprehend or welcome such a message than our own? And if we fail to understand it, are we not being bound by some tag that really does not mean what the word may signify? That is to say, we must get down below our discussion of Christian, Hebrew, Ethical Culture, whatever the discussion may be, to the spirit of life and of brotherhood. There we find we are all akin, there we find the fellowship of the great spirit of Abdu'l-Baha.
A religious newspaper was a little slighting to this guest of ours, saying he came to establish political peace. I have not found that he was an ambassador from any country, from any court; nor did he come on a diplomatic errand. Could a political peace be finally established which did not establish peace in the hearts of man; peace in the souls of individuals with their ideals? In the phrase of the political platform, "all peace looks alike to me."
Therefore for the churches, I believe that we today can welcome in a representative way and in a vital way Abdu'l-Baha.
If Abdu'l-Baha really is a representative in the interest of the peace of Persia, we would not be very sorry if he might secure a more honorable peace for Persia with Russia. And if on the other hand as a representative of the land of which he is at present a subject, Turkey, he should bring about the cessation of the wicked war between Turkey and Italy, how well ought we rejoice!
Naturally, we expect a word from the Consul General of Persia in New York, Mr. Topakyan.
ADDRESS BY MR. TOPAKYAN.
Ladies and Gentlemen: It is a very great honor for me to be here today, for those who cherish the highest American ideals have come to honor a man of peace, and to seek still greater light upon the sacred problem of Universal Peace. Our guest of honor has stood as a Prophet of enlightenment and peace for the Persian Empire, and a well-wisher of Persia may well honor him. I wish from the heart success for the message of peace for all men.
The awful calamity of war has hindered for centuries all human progress. What progress has been made has been made in spite of war. When the day of Universal Peace comes, it will be a day of universal good to all men. The poor shall rejoice and misery and degradation shall be like evil dreams of the night. The peacemakers are truly the children of God. It was impossible that America should be satisfied with her own prosperity and feel no interest in the true welfare of the rest of the world. Today in seeking International Peace, she is sending a message of glad hope to the nations who most need the sympathy and protection of the stronger nations.
I beg of you ladies and gentlemen to let these few words serve as an expression of my sincere sympathy for International Peace. In closing I am happy to say that Abdul-Baha is the Glory of Persia today.
A word from a University teacher, Prof. Wm. Jackson of Columbia University. Prof. Jackson is a scholar of the Persian land and tongue, and we shall be happy to have a word from him.
ADDRESS BY PROF. JACKSON.
It has been my pleasure and privilege to travel considerably in the East especially in the wonderland of Persia. No matter what the object of the traveler's journey may be, his attention is called to the fact that the spirit of these lands is awakening anew. One thing always impresses me there. When men meet and greet each other socially, in business, under all sorts of conditions, you hear them say "Salaam aleikum"! and the response comes back "Wa alaleikum assalaam"! That is to say, "Peace be upon you"! and "Upon you be Peace"!
With deep interest and reverence I saw the spot in Tabriz where the Bab was dragged up by the arms in 1850. After all the torment, abuse and persecution which had been heaped upon him, he was hung up there on a wall, side by side with one of his followers. At the last moment this disciple said "Master, are you satisfied" At that instant a volley of musketry rang out and the young disciple was dead. The Bab was strung up again and another volley brought death to him. He was a martyr to Peace and Love. This afternoon his Successor comes to us from the Orient to assure us that this Message of Peace is still being sounded and that we in the West and they in the East are really one in heart.
In welcoming on your behalf the guest of today, I cannot help but refer for a moment to his name "Abdul-Baha." Abdul, as you know, means Servant, being common in all Eastern tongues; Abdul-Baha means the Servant of the Lord, and if my informant is correct, some years ago when Abdul-Baha was asked by an honored teacher of Christianity whether he was a Prophet, his answer was, "I am the Servant of the Servants of the Lord."
We welcome this "Servant of the Servants of the Lord," and in welcoming him, in greeting him, honoring him, in naming him brother, and asking him to think of us as his sisters and brothers, can you forget the word of the poet of his own land, "No one could tell me where my soul might be. I searched for God and God eluded me. I sought my brother then and found all three, my soul, my God, my brother."
In the name of God we welcome our brother, the Servant of the Lord, Abdu'l-Baha.
ADDRESS BY ABDU'L-BAHA.
Although I felt indisposed this afternoon, yet because I attach great importance to this assembly, and because I was longing to see your faces, here am I.
- SW, Vol. 3, No. 8, p. 14
The Master's Talk at Reception by New York Peace Society
(Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation, 123)
13 May 1912 4
Hotel Astor, New York
Notes by Esther Foster
Although I felt indisposed this afternoon, yet because I attach great importance to this assembly and was longing to see your faces, I have come. The expression of kindly feelings and the spirit of hospitality manifested by the former speakers are most grateful. I am thankful for the susceptibilities of your hearts, for it is an evidence that your greatest desire is the establishment of international peace. You are lovers of the oneness of humanity, seekers after the good pleasure of the Lord, investigators of the foundations of the divine religions.
Today there is no greater glory for man than that of service in the cause of the Most Great Peace. Peace is light, whereas war is darkness. Peace is life; war is death. Peace is guidance; war is error. Peace is the foundation of God; war is a satanic institution. Peace is the illumination of the world of humanity; war is the destroyer of human foundations. When we consider outcomes in the world of existence, we find that peace and fellowship are factors of upbuilding and betterment, whereas war and strife are the causes of destruction and disintegration. All created things are expressions of the affinity and cohesion of elementary substances, and nonexistence is the absence of their attraction and agreement. Various elements unite harmoniously in composition, but when these elements become discordant, repelling each other, decomposition and nonexistence result. Everything partakes of this nature and is subject to this principle, for the creative foundation in all its degrees and kingdoms is an expression or outcome of love. Consider the restlessness and agitation of the human world today because of war. Peace is health and construction; war is disease and dissolution. When the banner of truth is raised, peace becomes the cause of the welfare and advancement of the human world. In all cycles and ages war has been a factor of derangement and discomfort, whereas peace and brotherhood have brought security and consideration of human interests. This distinction is especially pronounced in the present world conditions, for warfare in former centuries had not attained the degree of savagery and destructiveness which now characterizes it. If two nations were at war in olden times, ten or twenty thousand would be sacrificed, but in this century the destruction of one hundred thousand lives in a day is quite possible. So perfected has the science of killing become and so efficient the means and instruments of its accomplishment that a whole nation can be obliterated in a short time. Therefore, comparison with the methods and results of ancient warfare is out of the question.
According to an intrinsic law all phenomena of being attain to a summit and degree of consummation, after which a new order and condition is established. As the instruments and science of war have reached the degree of thoroughness and proficiency, it is hoped that the transformation of the human world is at hand and that in the coming centuries all the energies and inventions of man will be utilized in promoting the interests of peace and brotherhood. Therefore, may this esteemed and worthy society for the establishment of international peace be confirmed in its sincere intentions and empowered by God. Then will it hasten the time when the banner of universal agreement will be raised and international welfare will be proclaimed and consummated so that the darkness which now encompasses the world shall pass away.
Sixty years ago Baha'u'llah was in Persia. Seventy years ago the Bab appeared there. These two Blessed Souls devoted Their lives to the foundation of international peace and love among mankind. They strove with heart and soul to establish the teachings by which divergent people might be brought together and no strife, rancor or hatred prevail. Baha'u'llah, addressing all humanity, said that Adam, the parent of mankind, may be likened to the tree of nativity upon which you are the leaves and blossoms. Inasmuch as your origin was one, you must now be united and agreed; you must consort with each other in joy and fragrance. He pronounced prejudice -- whether religious, racial, patriotic, political -- the destroyer of the body politic. He said that man must recognize the oneness of humanity, for all in origin belong to the same household, and all are servants of the same God. Therefore, mankind must continue in the state of fellowship and love, emulating the institutions of God and turning away from satanic promptings, for the divine bestowals bring forth unity and agreement, whereas satanic leadings induce hatred and war.
This remarkable Personage was able by these principles to establish a bond of unity among the differing sects and divergent people of Persia. Those who followed His teachings, no matter from what denomination or faction they came, were conjoined by the ties of love, until now they cooperate and live together in peace and agreement. They are real brothers and sisters. No distinctions of class are observed among them, and complete harmony prevails. Daily this bond of affinity is strengthening, and their spiritual fellowship continually develops. In order to ensure the progress of mankind and to establish these principles Baha'u'llah suffered every ordeal and difficulty. The Bab became a martyr, and over twenty thousand men and women sacrificed their lives for their faith. Baha'u'llah was imprisoned and subjected to severe persecutions. Finally, He was exiled from Persia to Mesopotamia; from Baghdad He was sent to Constantinople and Adrianople and from thence to the prison of 'Akka in Syria. Through all these ordeals He strove day and night to proclaim the oneness of humanity and promulgate the message of universal peace. From the prison of 'Akka He addressed the kings and rulers of the earth in lengthy letters, summoning them to international agreement and explicitly stating that the standard of the Most Great Peace would surely be upraised in the world.
This has come to pass. The powers of earth cannot withstand the privileges and bestowals which God has ordained for this great and glorious century. It is a need and exigency of the time. Man can withstand anything except that which is divinely intended and indicated for the age and its requirements. Now -- praise be to God! -- in all countries of the world, lovers of peace are to be found, and these principles are being spread among mankind, especially in this country. Praise be to God! This thought is prevailing, and souls are continually arising as defenders of the oneness of humanity, endeavoring to assist and establish international peace. There is no doubt that this wonderful democracy will be able to realize it, and the banner of international agreement will be unfurled here to spread onward and outward among all the nations of the world. I give thanks to God that I find you imbued with such susceptibilities and lofty aspirations, and I hope that you will be the means of spreading this light to all men. Thus may the Sun of Reality shine upon the East and West. The enveloping clouds shall pass away, and the heat of the divine rays will dispel the mist. The reality of man shall develop and come forth as the image of God, his Creator. The thoughts of man shall take such upward flight that former accomplishments shall appear as the play of children, for the ideas and beliefs of the past and the prejudices regarding race and religion have ever lowered and been destructive to human evolution.
I am most hopeful that in this century these lofty thoughts shall be conducive to human welfare. Let this century be the sun of previous centuries, the effulgences of which shall last forever, so that in times to come they shall glorify the twentieth century, saying the twentieth century was the century of lights, the twentieth century was the century of life, the twentieth century was the century of international peace, the twentieth century was the century of divine bestowals, and the twentieth century has left traces which shall last forever.