Friday, March 12, 2010

Master's Letter to Martha Root

The Exemplar Teaches a Teacher how to Teach

By John Taylor; 2010 March 12, Ala' 11, 166 BE

A Late Listing of the Baha'i Principles

In February of 1920 'Abdul-Baha wrote a Tablet addressed to several believers, which was to be transmitted to them through Martha Root. Root was a part-time journalist soon to become a full-time itinerant teacher of the Faith. Shoghi Effendi considered her the greatest teacher of the Faith, bar none. I therefore think that this Tablet is especially important not just because the Master lays out in detail how to approach the difficult task of teaching the Faith, and not only because it was one of the last times He laid out the principles in order, but mostly because of its recipient. It shows that at least somebody, Martha Root, understood the principles and carried them out just as He directed us all to do. She demonstrated in the most spectacular way to carry out the call to teach. In the decades that passed since her death in Hawaii some twenty years after this Tablet was revealed, nobody has come anywhere near the stupendous range of accomplishments in teaching the Faith of this Hand whom the Guardian called an "immortal heroine" and an "incentive and example" to all believers.

In spite of its being addressed to other believers, none of whose name is recognizable today, this truly deserves to be known as the "Tablet to Martha Root." In this essay let us go over what Abdu'l-Baha says about what to say when we teach the Faith.


Even in His salutation, the Master mentions principles one and two, search and oneness:

"O ye lovers of Truth and servants of the world of humanity!"

Writing in the wake of the First World War, which we now know also included the worst pandemic in modern history, the Master starts off by pointing out the situation. "You will see how the world is upset with internal conflict..." and, "flourishing lands are ruined..." We can conclude that it is good for a teacher to establish the need in society for the teachings, even at the price of being what the Hippie generation called a "downer," that is, dwelling on the hardships and difficulties that lie before humanity. In the next paragraph, Abdu'l-Baha points out the cause of it all.

"The source of all these catastrophes is racial fanaticism, patriotic fanaticism, religious fanaticism and political fanaticism. The source of these fanaticisms is ancient imitations, religious imitations, racial imitations, patriotic imitations, and political imitations. As long as following such imitations persists, the very foundation of humanity is wrecked and the world of man is in great jeopardy."

The translator, Ali Kuli Khan, chooses the word "fanaticism" here, though I suspect that in the original it is a term that is more often translated by "prejudice." Whether fanaticism or prejudice, the main tap root from which the many thinner roots grow is imitation. Imitation is sight by proxy, a blind faith that takes the place of seeing things with our own eyes. The Master continues,

"Now, in such a shining age when the realities have become manifest and the mysteries of the universe are disclosed, the morn of Truth has dawned and the world is illuminated - is it allowable that such dreadful war should occur to throw the world of humanity into manifest loss? No, by God!"

The ultimate cause of all wars, conflict and strife is mental laziness, an existential negligence which He calls "imitation," using a platonic term arising from Plato's theory of the forms or ideas. We either see real objects inwardly for ourselves, or all we see and know is borrowed and unreliable. Plato explained this with his parable of the Den or Cave. Slaves and prisoners are permanently chained inside the cave so that they see only shadows of real objects projected on the wall before them. Having only seen firelight, their eyes are weak. The images projected before them on the wall seem to be the only reality, and the prisoner sceptically reject all else. This is where we get our word "education" from. Education comes from two Latin words meaning "to lead out." In order to be enlightened the prisoners must be led reluctantly out of the cave into the sunlight of "The Good," which is so intensely bright that it blinds them at first.

That is why the coming of a great teacher, in this case Baha'u'llah and the Bab, is inevitably accompanied by great disruption, rejection and persecution. The Master also points to the example of Christ, which is rejected every time the Christian West takes up the sword.

"His Highness Christ called all men to peace and reconciliation and ordered His Holiness Peter to sheath his sword. This was the council and commandment of His Highness Christ. But now all the Christians have drawn their swords! How can this be relevant to that clear text of the Gospel?"

'Abdu'l-Baha then gives a capsule history of Baha'u'llah and His proclamation to the kings, in which He prophesied to the German Kaiser the Great War just passed.

"Likewise, while He suffered wrong and imprisonment at the hand of the Turkish Sultan, and was verily incarcerated in the fortress of Akka - He explicitly wrote the Sultan that Constantinople shall be seized by a great revolution of such violence that women and children shall weep and lament."

In the Proclamation, Abdu'l-Baha says, Baha'u'llah revealed the kernel of what we now call the Baha'i principles.

"In short, He wrote all the crowned heads and presidents of republics what has been exactly fulfilled; and certain teachings were revealed from the Supreme Pen relative to the prevention of war, which have been published throughout the world."

Abdu'l-Baha then outlines what these broad teachings of peace are, in this order:

Independent Investigation of Reality

Oneness of Humanity

Religion is a Cause of Love

Elimination of Fanaticism (Prejudice)

Universal Peace and a World Tribunal

Equality of Women and Men

After explaining each of them briefly, He sums the grouping up by saying: "It has thus become clear and manifest that these teachings are the light of the world of humanity and the ideal spirit." In future essays I will try to expand upon these capsule summaries of the Tablet to Martha Root in a spirit as close to the ideal as I can muster.


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