A sphere is the most complete thing in the Universe: the world itself, the round notes of a lark, the full life that faces all horizons.
To Abdul Baha's searching spirit, every aspect of existence was familiar. He knew the literature of the religions which have dominated the great sections of humanity. He knew the histories of the countries. their customs, manners, aspirations. He knew politics as it should be — an art: he knew it as it was — a tangled web of intrigue and group-interest. He knew the heart of man very well, and he knew the plan of God.
He was familiar with all these things and with others of a quite different nature, for he had been tested in the crucible of experience. He knew the luxury of his father's mansion in Teheran where he bid spent his early childhood — the eldest son of a noble and honored house. He knew the lightning change to destitution, the breaking of familiar ties, the long road into exile. He knew the anguish of prison life, the monotony of endless decades of confinement; and then a second lightning change to complete freedom — the touring of two continents, the meeting with thousands of all nations, classes, professions. He knew hew to meet men on their own ground, whatever that ground might be.
So, both spiritually and practically, Abdul Baha was fitted to deal with life. In whatsoever circumstances he was the man of God and the man of the world.
When in 1912 he had completed his epoch-making journey through Europe and throughout the United States rind Canada, during which he had warned the people and the governments that nothing but a complete reversal of attitude could prevent a world cataclysm, he returned to Palestine as the center of an international movement. There, while the storm clouds gathered in the countries where he, had so lately spoken on file practical ways to peace, he took up his patriarchal life in the quiet town of Haifa.
After the war had broken and words were of no more avail, he immediately turned his attention to the safe-guarding of the populace of the region in which he lived and those adjoining. He set out for the Sea of Galilee and spent months at Tiberias and Adassieh laying extensive agricultural plans and supervising the planting of corn, wheat and other food stuffs. The latter village especially, inhabited altogether by Zoroastrians became the headquarters of a vast farming project. Thus, through his foresight and resourcefulness, the Bahai community and the poor living on the curve of the Bay of Acca were to a large extent ensured against the calamity that was to follow.
With the transfer of the scene of war from the Dardanelles to Syria, the already depleted inhabitants had been subjected to fines, requisitions and exhorbitant taxes. The Turkish government took everything: horses, cows, camels, donkeys, sheep; also wood, iron railings, copper and brass vases. Household furniture was not exempted. The people were deprived of their mattresses, cauldrons, cooking utensils, even their clothing. The majority of houses and shops were swept clean. Then came the famine.
The famine in Palestine derived from several sources, chief among which was the advent of armies of locusts in numbers unprecedented as far as the memories of the oldest inhabitants could reach. At times, these unwelcome guests brought night in daytime as they covered the face of the sky for hours. To this condition, coupled with the extortion and looting by the Turkish authorities, was added the wholesale buying of supplies by the Germans to be shipped to the “Fatherland.” In short the land, stripped by locusts of two varieties, insect and human, was no longer able to meet even a percentage of the normal requirement. Death was the order of the day. Thousands upon thousands prolonged their lives on the peelings of oranges and bananas, the rind of watermelons or simply on grass, and then fell in their tracks leaving none behind sufficiently animate to mourn for them or bury their corpses. In Lebanon alone, more than one hundred thousand persons succumbed to starvation.
The famine killed the finer emotions and sentiment also. Men, impelled by the instinct of self-preservation, became like wild beasts and fought the fight to the finish. At the same time, the girls of the cities and villages, pure and lovely only a short year ago, trod the awful path of prostitution in order to keep alive just a little longer. Thus, communicable and contagious diseases began to spread with such alarming rapidity that the press, braving the restrictions of censorship, came out with statements
that the survival of the nation itself was in jeopardy. Finally the sluggish government, goaded into some action, opened a few free clinics.
Although no town could be protected from the perils of these terrible days, the, communities of Acca and Haifa lived in a comparative oasis. Trains of camels coming from Tiberius and Adassieh were ever on their way to the Master's house in Haifa. Here, sacks of wheat, corn and barley, and cases of vegetables, olive oil, fruit and nuts were unloaded and piled in the vast store room. Then, after an over-night rest, the caravan returned to the plantations for another consignment.
The soil around and adjacent to the Sea of Galilee, where Abdul Baha's agricultural enterprise was going on, being remarkably rich and fertile, yielded three and four crops in the season. Consequently the supplies were abundant and continuous. The Master managed the project himself, while responsibility for transportation was in the hands of Mirza Jalal Esphahani, husband of his daughter Ruha. My duties lay at the distributing end. The people would call at the house and I would provide them with coupons, were they Christian, Jew or Mohammedan. Some coupons bore Abdul Baha's seal together with specifications in his own handwriting on the provisions to be collected. The Master computed the amount required by each family. It was a thoroughly organized ration system.
All this applied to the very poor, but there were others to be considered also: the formerly rich or well-to-do families, now destitute but still proud. In these cases, the Master himself was the visitor, the bringer of provisions and good-cheer. With all the obligations that rested on him, he was willing to go out of his way in order to shield from possible humiliation those who were not accustomed to ask.
Of course there were impediments to be overcome. I well remember a certain instance which threw all of us into a state of consternation. One day Mirza Jalal arrived alone and strode into the presence of the Master. The caravan had been intercepted in Nazareth and the provisions commandeered by the Turkish officers. On receiving this information Abdul Baha acted immediately. His carriage was ordered and he set out alone for Nazareth.
Few of us slept that night for we knew that in such turbulent times, almost anything might happen; and when morning dawned we gathered at the gate and on the road, waiting for news. A long, long day, another anxious night, and then — late in the afternoon, the carriage came to view.
We raced to meet it, tears streaming down our cheeks, and saw Abdul Baha sitting back very comfortably, a smile of satisfaction on his face.
We didn't learn much about his experience. The Turks had been rough, yes, quite uncompromising in their attitude; and then, all of a sudden, a telegram had been sent to Jemal Pasha at his military headquarters in the interior. Result: everything was to be returned. Mirza Jalal could set out right now and bring back our poor camels and the supplies. I can tell you that there was rejoicing that evening in Haifa. The townspeople crowded around the house and could hardly tear themselves away.
And so the years of war rolled on while Abdul Baha, the father, attended to the needs of his enormous family.
CHAPTER II THE TABLETS TO THE UNITED STATES
After affairs in Haifa had been organized to a point where they could run on without his daily care, the Master would on occasion retire to the other side of the bay and sojourn awhile at Bahjee. In the beautiful house for so long occupied by Baha-O-Llah and where his sacred bones now rest, Abdul Baha would shift his thoughts from things as they were and plan for things to come.
The agonies to which Palestine was subjected were only a small part of the world-agony. Abdul Baha was acutely conscious of the trials of the people in every country and he feared lest with all their sacrifices they were playing a losing game. He mourned over the inability of mankind to forestall these recurrent calamities. The only hope was a coalition of the nations with agencies that would protect the interests of all. Had not Baha-O-Llah addressed the kings and rulers of the earth on these matters! Had not he himself travelled in his old age and explained to the people of Europe and America the steps that should be taken for the welding of humanity into one family! But no, the mind was slow to relinquish shabby old ideas and grasp new ones, however brilliant these new ideas might be; so, by long and painful process, it must be modernized and turned toward the future. That was the task — the task for the followers of Baha-O-Llah.
During these periods of physical relaxation at Bahjee, it was my inestimable privilege to live at the side of Abdul Baha — to follow him on his walks in the garden and through the meadows, to watch him in his moments of meditation and hear the words which fell from his lips like hyacinths of divine wisdom. One day, he approached me as I was poring over a book, making notes. “What are you studying?” he asked. I laid before him a World Geography published by The MacMillan Company in 1912, which volume had been given me by a student of the University of Beirut on one of his visits to Haifa.
Abdul Baha turned over the pages and examined the maps with interest. “These are the countries that must arise in the cause of peace!” he exclaimed, “Every one of them.” Then he pointed to the text. “Translate what it says.” So I began: The climatic conditions of the different regions, the methods of transportation, the produce, the industries, figures as to
population, language, commerce. He took up my notes which were in Persian. “Oh, I see, you have started a skeleton listing already. Very good. Now proceed with it, and later bring the material to me.” I still have this geography in my possession — a book which was destined to be associated with a spiritual plan for the healing of nations — a practical plan for world union.
One Monday morning, it was March 26, 1916, Abdul Baha was sitting at the window of his room, looking past the olive grove, over the sea and far into infinitude. Suddenly, he turned and asked me to chant one of the Prayers of Baha-O-Llah. I obeyed, keenly feeling my own unworthiness and the extraordinary conditions under which I lived. When I had finished chanting, the Master looked at me with a soft, dancing light in his eyes and said: “You must be infinitely grateful to Baha-O-Llah for having chosen you to be with me for such a long time. Surely it must be for a great purpose that is not apparent at present. Now bring pen and paper. I will dictate a Tablet to America.” He began:
To the friends and maid-servants of God in THE NORTH-EASTERN STATES upon them be greetings and praise! This was the first Tablet in a series which later was to become known as “The Divine Plan,” a mighty work of the spirit in which Abdul Baha was to call upon the people of North America, section by section, commanding them to arise simultaneously and spread the Cause to all the inhabited parts of the earth. In this first Tablet, he says in part:
Throughout the coming centuries and cycles, many harvests will be gathered. Consider the work of former generations. During the lifetime of his Holiness Christ, the believing, firm souls were few and numbered, but the heavenly benedictions descended so plentifully that in a short time countless souls entered under the shade of the Gospel. God has said in the Koran: ‘One grain will bring forth seven sheaves, and every sheaf shall contain one hundred grains.’ — In other words, one grain will become seven hundred; and if God so wills, he will double these also. It has often happened that one blessed soul has become the cause of the guidance of a nation. Now we must not look at our own ability and capacity; nay, rather we must in these days behold the favors and bounties of God, who has made the drop to find the expression of the sea and the atom the importance of the sun. 8
[photo of Mansion of Bahji omitted]
The above Tablet was forwarded to America and caused a great deal of active interest, but during the months that followed, various remarks of Abdul Baha pointed to the fact that the Tablet was not final and that it would be supplemented by another. Then on February 2, 1917, the Master, from his house in Haifa, dictated to me a second and longer Tablet likewise addressed to the believers of God in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, Pennsylvania; New Jersey, New York.
This Tablet, coming as it does from Abdul Baha who saw all things with the eye of equality, is interesting in the fact that he singles out the region that he in addressing an being unique and especially favored. He begins thus:
All the regions in the estimation of the True One are one region, and all the cities and villages are ideally equal and similar to each other. Neither holds distinction over another. All of them are the fields of God and the habitation of the souls of men. But through faith and assurance and the precedence of one part over another, the dweller imparts holiness and sanctification to the dwelling and some of the countries becoming exceptional, attain to the most great distinction. For example, notwithstanding the fact that some of the countries of Europe and America are distinguished for the purity of the air, the wholesomeness of the water, the charm of mountains, plains and prairies, and are preferred above the rest, yet Palestine became an honor to all other regions of the world because all the divine Manifestations from the time of His Holiness Abraham to the time of the appearance of the Seal of the Prophets, have either lived in this region or have emigrated to or travelled through it. Likewise Yathreb and Batha attained to the most great bounty, and the lights of the Prophets have shone from that horizon. For this reason Palestine and Hedjaz are distinguished above all other regions. Likewise as the continent of America, in the estimation of the True One, is the field of the effulgence of lights, the Kingdom of the Manifestation of Mysteries, the home of the righteous ones and the gathering-place of the free, therefore every section thereof is blessed; yet because these nine states have been favored in faith and assurance, hence through this precedence they have obtained spiritual privilege. The next morning, I took the transcription of the Tablet to the Master. He read it slowly, adding a few words here and there. Then raising his
head, he said: “Let me see what the friends of God in these States will do. Will they arise with superhuman energy and spread the lights of the Sun of Reality in all those cities, towns, villages and hamlets? I have pointed out to them the highway of service. Will they walk in it? I have drawn for them the plan of God. Will they, like experienced generals, attack the enemy from all sides? And what will you do? Are you going to take a hand in this divine campaign, the birth of which you are now witnessing?”
These were words uttered a long time ago as the Master summoned the North-Eastern States to his side. It was the opening shot.
Abdul Baha sent an initial Tablet to the Southern States: Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Later from his house in Haifa, on February 3, 1917, he dictated a longer and more significant Tablet:
To the friends and maid-servants of God in THE SOUTHERN STATES upon them be Baha-O-Llah El Abha ! Again we find that Abdul Baha stresses the specific advantages enjoyed by the people on which he is now focussing his attention. Theirs is an unusual opportunity. He speaks to them as follows:
The philosophers of the ancients, the thinkers of the Middle Ages and the scientists of this century have agreed that the best and most ideal region for the habitation of man is the temperate zone, for in this belt the intellect and thoughts rise to the highest stage of maturity, and the ability of civilization manifests itself in full efflorescence. When you read history critically and with a penetrating eye, it becomes evident that the majority of the famous men have been born, reared and have done their work in the temperate zone, while very, very few have appeared in the torrid and frigid zones. Now these sixteen Southern States are situated in the temperate zone, and in these regions the perfections of the world of nature have been fully revealed. Consequently the moderation of the weather, the beauty of the scenery and the geographical configuration of the country make great effect in the world of mind and thought. This fact is well demonstrated through observation and experience. 11
Therefore in these sixteen States, the Divine Teachings should unquestionably reveal themselves with added effulgence, the Breaths of the Holy Spirit display a more penetrating intensity, the ocean of the Love of God be stirred with higher waves, the breezes of the Rose-garden of Divine Love be wafted at a greater speed and the Fragrances of Holiness diffused with rapidity. After my copy had been corrected. Abdul Baha said:
“The importance of this Tablet will be revealed in the future. In these vast sixteen States, the lights of the Sun of Reality will shine with great power, and the dark clouds of ignorance and prejudice will be dispelled from their horizon. Tell them: Do not let your thoughts and ideals be crystallized around particular matters. Close your eyes to outward differences and look upon each other with the eye of oneness. . . . Upraise the banner of unity, fraternity, cooperation and reciprocity amongst all the peoples, so that there may be left of prejudice, naught but a name, and of ignorance, not even a shadow; that the religion of God may pitch its tent over the East and the West, the radiance of the Kingdom illumine all hearts, perfect agreement and association be realized between the races, religions and nativities Find the world of creation find composure and rest.”
According to procedure, both a short and long Tablet were written for the people of Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. The second one was dictated on February 8, 1917, from Baha-O-Llah's room in Acca.
To the believers and maid-servants of God in THE CENTRAL STATES … These twelve Central States are like unto the heart of America, and the heart is connected with all the organs and parts of man. If the heart is strengthened, all the organs of the body are reinforced, and if the heart is weak, the entire physical structure is subjected to feebleness. Now praise be to God that Chicago and its environs, from the beginning of the diffusion of the Fragrances of God, have been a strong heart. Therefore, through Divine Bounty and Providence it has become confirmed in certain great matters. Firstly: The Call of the Kingdom was at the very start raised from Chicago. This is indeed a great privilege, for in future centuries and cycles, it will be as an axis around which the honor of Chicago will revolve. 12
Secondly: A number of souls with the utmost firmness and steadfastness arose in that blessed spot for the promotion of the Word of God and even to the present moment, having purified and sanctified the heart, they are occupied with the promulgation of the Teachings of God. Thirdly: During the American journey, Abdul Baha several times passed through Chicago and associated with the friends of God. For some time he sojourned in that city. Day and night he was occupied with the mention of the True One and summoned the people to the Kingdom of God. Fourthly: Up to the present time, the effect of every movement initiated in Chicago was spread to all parts and in all directions; just as everything that appears in and manifests from the heart influences all the organs and the structure of the body. Fifthly: The first Mashrekol-Azlkar (Temple) in America was instituted in Chicago, and this honor and distinction is infinite in value. Undoubtedly, out of this Mashrekol-Azkar thousands of other Mashrekol-Azkars will be born. In reviewing this Tablet, Abdul Baha said: “The believers in America must be like lighthouses, lightships and searchlights, so that in the tempestuous sea of the world, the arks of their lives may reach the haven of security. Each individual Bahai must be a life-saver who, facing the rough waves of the sea, plunges into the whirlpool and saves souls from drowning. To sit, to talk, to listen — there is no virtue in that. To rise, to act, to help that is the Bahai life. The sincerity and earnestness of the friends in the Central States must appear through deeds. Deeds are the standards. I have done all that is necessary. I have drawn for them the plan of God which must guide them through all the coming years. I have explained to them the Principles of Baha-O-Llah. Now the promotion of those principles depends upon their Co-operation with one another and the turning of their faces to the Kingdom of Abha.”
Two Tablets were written to New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, California, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Utah. The second one, dictated on February 15, 1917, from the room of Baha-O-Llah in Acca, was addressed to:
The believers of God and the maid-servants of the Merciful in THE WESTERN STATES Here the Master finds similitude between the furthermost Western state and the Land of the Prophets. He says:
The blessed State of California bears great similarity to the Holy Land — that is, the country of Palestine. The air is in the utmost temperance, the plain very spacious, and the fruits of Palestine are seen in their freshness and delicacy. When Abdul Baha was traveling and journeying through those States, he found himself in Palestine, for from many standpoints there was a remarkable likeness between the two regions. In some instances, the shores of the Pacific Ocean show marked resemblance to those of the Holy Land, the flora even of Palestine appearing there. A study of this phenomenon has led to much speculation. Likewise in the State of California and other Western States, scenes, of the world of nature which bewilder the minds of men, are manifest: lofty mountains, deep canyons, majestic waterfalls and giant trees are wit- on all sides, while the soil is in the utmost fertility and richness. That blessed State is similar to the Holy Land and that region like unto a delectable paradise, in many ways identical with Palestine. Now just as there are natural resemblances, heavenly resemblances must also be acquired… California and the other Western States must earn an ideal similarity with the Holy Land, so that from these regions the Breaths of the Holy Spirit may be diffused to all parts of America and Europe, the Call of the Kingdom of God exhilarate and rejoice all ears, the Divine Principles bestow a new life, the different parties become one party and the once divergent ideas revolve around one unique center; that the East and West of the continent may embrace each other, the anthem of the oneness of the world of humanity confer a new life upon all the children of men and the Tabernacle of Universal Peace be pitched on the apex of America. When the original of the above Tablet had been corrected by Abdul Baha, he returned it to me, at the same time slapping me smartly on both cheeks. “It is very good" he laughed, “and this is your wage for copying the Tablet . Now let us take a walk in the town.”
As we passed through the narrow streets of Acca, he turned to me and said “Speak!” I had to obey as best I could; so, assembling my thoughts which had been focused on the last Tablet, I began to relate the story of the discovery of gold in the stream gravels of California which had taken place in 1848, and told how, when the news was spread, tens of thousands of persons in the Eastern States left their farms, factories and homes in a mad rush for the gold-fields — many thousands dying on the way. The Beloved thought for a while, then he spoke: “Consider how men, in order to gain wealth and honor, threw themselves into the midst
[photo of house of Abdullah Pasha where 'Abdu'l-Baha lived in Acca omitted]
of all kinds of dangers. How cheerfully they accepted all day, the mines of the Kingdom of Abha are being discovered and the precious Jewels of the Spirit are exposed. These mines are inexhaustible. The more they dig, the greater will be the output of the ideal silver, gold and diamond. The believers in the Western States must find their way from these earthly mines to the spiritual mines. They must realize how their forefathers, in order to obtain gold, underwent the most incredible adversities, exposed their liven to danger and accepted all difficulties with firm resolution. The friends also, in order to guide the souls, to promote the Word of God, to discover the unseen treasure of the Kingdom and to prospect the invisible mines of the Realm of Might, must be willing to undergo any difficulty, so that they may achieve results and enrich the world with the boundless wealth of Truth. To the believers of the Western States, the self-sacrifice of the old pioneers and the patient gold-diggers must serve as a great example of perseverance.
Another day, when the Master and I were speaking about the system of irrigation which had turned the wastes of Southern California into a paradise of flowers, he said: “When you travel in those parts, tell the people: The Heavenly Irrigator appeared 70 years ago in Persia and showed his disciples how to flood the dry fields of the hearts. Through his knowledge and inspiration, they were enabled to transform the waste deserts of the minds and souls into luxuriant gardens through which rivers of light flowed from the inaccessible Mountains of God.”
He continued. “Say to them:
O ye friends of the Western States! Just as your Government is these extraordinary hardships, and travelled thousands of miles through deserts and over mountains, in order to reach the gold mines. But now in this spending extraordinary effort and money in the matter of irrigation, building dams on the tablelands to save the winter rain, so that the valleys, the plains and the orchards may be flooded during the summer season — you also must exert yourselves in the irrigation of the hearts of men. Learn perseverance from your universal teacher, Baha-O-Llah, who was not disheartened by any obstacle from irrigating the hearts of humanity. Kings and nations arose against him and banished him to distant lands. Nevertheless, whenever he entered a new place, he fearlessly occupied his time in the spiritual irrigation and the sowing of the seeds of knowledge and wisdom in the prepared fields of Spirit. Through his tender care, the wildernesses were changed into rose gardens, the sad hearts were made happy, the sleepy ones were awakened and the weak ones strengthened. Irrigation! This is the real and permanent irrigation of the
Lord. One drop of this water will allay the thirst of all mankind, suffering the fields of the hearts to become green and luxuriant throughout all eternity. If the ground of the spirit is flooded with this pure water, it will not be followed by drought; its flowers will not fade and its freshness will never pass away. I hope that the Western friends may become the spiritual irrigators of the Kingdom.”
Again, in speaking of his hopes for the people of the Western States, Abdul Baha expressed himself in glowing terms: “If we concentrate our attention on the spiritual world and the rich results issuing therefrom, we observe that through the Teachings of Christ and the self-sacrifice of his disciples, Europe and America were adorned with the bright jewels of divine civilization, ferocious characters were refined and the love of humanity spread.
“In a similar manner in the Bahai Cause, there must appear extraordinary spiritual geniuses, wonders of the Kingdom of God, souls who in knowledge, sociability, tenderness, loving kindness, universality and joyfulness, may be considered as unique and peerless. Should such heavenly beings appear in the Western States: souls who have discovered their ways to the mines of the Kingdom, souls who are the irrigators of the grounds of the hearts of humanity, souls who are the wonders of the realm of Truth. The power and creative energy of the Kingdom of Abha will become manifest and apparent. Then and not until then will the spiritual creation of the Almighty become perfected in those States, the miracles of the transforming power of the Spirit embodied, the Mysteries of the Holy Rooks revealed and the golden age of pence and brotherhood established.”
In this manner did Abdul Baha call upon the Western States, even as he had invoked the. Northern, Southern and Central States, to take part in the great practical and spiritual combat of the Twentieth Century.