Who was `Abdu'l-Bahá, and why did He come to the West?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 12, 1912 Home Visits!

New York: Visits with California friends, Percy Grant, and Howard Colby Ives; meeting at Juliet's 

Mahmud wrote [dating this the 11th but it occurred on the 12th]: "After morning prayers and meditation, `Abdu'l-Bahá bestowed His favors upon the friends and well-wishers, especially on Mrs Goodall and Mrs Cooper and other friends from California, confirming and assisting them. While He 
conversed with the friends, He also wrote Tablets in response to petitions from the believers.
     Among those who visited Him today were two eminent clergymen: one was Dr Grant, the minister of the Church of the Ascension, and the other Dr Ives of the Brotherhood Church of New Jersey. They have frequently visited the Master showing Him the utmost respect and reverence.
In the afternoon there was a meeting of the friends at the home of Miss Juliet Thompson. `Abdu'l-Bahá encouraged them to hold as many meetings as possible. `Promise each other', He said, `to visit one another's homes so that it may be the cause of promoting love and happiness.' After His eloquent discourse, sherbet and sweets were served and then He left the meeting.
     At the evening gathering at His house `Abdu'l-Bahá spoke on the degrees and station of creation, the maturity of the world and the magnitude of the Dispensation of the Ancient Beauty. The meeting lasted until dinner was ready. He sat at the table and invited all the friends from America to dine with Him. At this point a lady asked, `Up to the present time, not a single woman has appeared as a Messenger from God. Why have all the Manifestations of God been men?' `Abdu'l-Bahá replied:
     Although women are equal to men in abilities and capacities, there is no doubt that men are bolder and physically more powerful. This distinction is also apparent in the animal kingdom, for example among pigeons, sparrows, peacocks and others."

Perhaps Mahmud left off part of the explanation? 

Juliet has a different version of the afternoon meeting: "On Friday in the afternoon he stopped for me. We were expecting the Master in the evening--He was to bless our house with a visit--and at the moment Percy arrived I was telephoning Marjorie, who had offered to bring some light refreshment. Percy, sitting in the living room, heard. But I couldn't invite him, for I knew it would spoil Mamma's evening with the Master--she mightn't even come into the room.
      While I was putting on my gloves Percy produced a large and ornate pocketbook. "Juliet," he said, "here is an empty pocketbook which someone brought me from Italy. Will you accept it? I thought you might have in mind some Oriental person to whom you would like to give it."
     When we started out he proposed going up in a cab, but I objected on the grounds that it would be slow and we were already half an hour late.
     "I am bringing the Master down here at six and you would have no visit at all if we took a slow cab."
     "Well, for the matter of that, Juliet"--and his upper lip grew very stiff--"any visit I might pay would be merely an expression of affection and courtesy. As for all you could get from a visit of this sort, where conversation must be through an interpreter and 'Abdu'l-Bahá will go off into a monologue on some subject that interests Him--well, as I said, it is merely a mark of courtesy."

I never saw his mouth so stubborn as when we entered the Master's house. The Master was waiting for us, sitting in the bay window of the English basement.
      "Marhabá, Dr Grant! It is a long time since I have seen you, a long time."
 But His welcome was more reserved than it had been before.
      "Well, Dr Grant," He said, after a moment, "what is the very latest news, the very latest?"
      Remembering Percy's remark, that the Master always indulged in monologue, I couldn't help smiling at this.
     "The latest news," said Percy with a wicked look, as obstinate, pugnacious and self-confident as I have ever seen, "is in the field of athletics."
     "The Olympic games?" asked the Master.
     "Yes," said Percy, surprised.
      "You know," the Master went on, "that these games originated in ancient Greece and it was a necessity of that time to develop the body to its fullest strength, the nations being constantly at warfare and the men wearing armour and fighting hand to hand. Heavy swords had to be driven through coats of mail; bodies had to be strengthened to endure the mail."
     "But explain to the Master," said Percy, very much de haut en bas, "that because of the people all centring in the cities and thus depleting their constitutions, the necessity for physical development is just as great now as it was then, though the basis is different."
     The Master answered with the utmost sweetness: "We do not deprecate physical development, for the sound mind should work through a sound body, but We think that the people of the West are too much concerned with mere physical development. They forget the need of spiritual development."
     But Percy was bent upon argument. The development of the spirit, he maintained, could not even begin till the body had first been built up; and he looked so absurdly condescending, so pompous, so sure of his power to defeat the Master, that I could scarcely control my mirth. The Master did not control His.
     "Man thinks too much of perfecting the body," He smiled delightfully, "but of what use is it to him without the perfecting of the spirit? No matter how much he develops his muscles and sinews he will never become as strong as the ox, as brave as the lion or as big as the elephant! Physically he is an animal, yet inferior to the animals, for animals acquire their sustenance with the greatest ease, whereas man has to toil incessantly, to labour with infinite pain, for a mere livelihood. So, in the physical realm, the beast is nobler than man. But man is distinguished from the beast by his spiritual gifts and these he should develop with the other, both together. There should be the perfect balance, the spiritual and the physical. A man whose ideal side only is developed is also imperfect. We do not deprecate comfort. If I could find a better house than this I would certainly move into it. But man should not think of comfort alone."
     I looked at Percy. He was still like a fighting-cock, ready for another bout. He would never give in before me, I knew, so I slipped quietly into the kitchen. When I returned the whole atmosphere had changed. His face had softened, his stiff mouth relaxed. As I entered the room the Master was saying: "When one prays, one sometimes has divine glimpses. So, when one is spiritually developed, a sublimity of nature is obtained, a delicacy of vision such as could not otherwise be found. Not only this, but tranquility and happiness are secured.
      "Do you think if it had not been for spiritual assurance I could have been happy all those years in prison? Think of it, forty years! You have just been telling me, Dr Grant, that forty years is the average American life. I spent My American life in prison. Yet all that time I was on the heights of happiness. Many believers in Persia have been forced to give up everything: their possessions, their families, and, in the end, their lives, but they never lost their happiness.
     "Remember Christ, when they placed the crown of thorns on His head. At that very moment, as the thorns wounded His brow, He looked down the vista of the centuries and beheld innumerable kings bowing their jewelled crowns low before that crown of thorns. Do you think He did not know, that He could not foresee?" (Again I stole a glance at Percy. He looked utterly melted now and his eyes shone.) "When they spat in the face of Christ," the Master went on, "when they made a mock procession and carried Him around the streets, He felt no humiliation."
      Just then I rose to go, first asking permission, with my eyes, of the Master, Percy was not inclined to go, even when we were on our feet. In spite of that momentary softening--perhaps partly because of it--he still wanted to stay and argue and I could hardly tear him away.
     While we were standing, he swung the master's divine subject to a combative one, "the Occident versus the Orient": that was the substance of it. And if ever I saw the Occident embodied, it was at that moment in that man.
     The Master leaned close to him and with the utmost gentleness and patience tried to appeal to him. The people of the East, He said, were content with less than the people here, so their hours of work were shorter. He touched too on the absence of suicide in the Orient.
     When He spoke of suicide, and also while He described the humiliations heaped on Christ, which could not humiliate Him, I had a strange sense of impending tragedy for Percy Grant, of something dreadful to happen in the future in which he would utterly "lose his happiness" and would feel humiliation, when perhaps these words of the Master would come back to him.[124]
     On the way down in the cab the Master talked about economics. "The most important of the questions here," He said, "is the economic question. Until that is first solved nothing can be done. But if it should not be solved there will be riots."
     Percy spoke of democracy.
     "But your poor man," the Master replied, "cannot even think of economics; he is so overburdened."
     I asked Percy to tell about his work and when he had done so, with some hesitation (for he seldom speaks of himself), the Master said sweetly: "May you make peace here. May you unite the classes."
     Whereupon Percy's face beamed. But he steeled himself again and at my door he turned to go, though I did invite him in, and the Master also said: "Are you not coming in?"
     "No, no," and he hurried away, with a huffy look.
      I can still see the Master on my steps, so in command.
      "Au revoir, Dr Grant," He said.
      Percy had mentioned the yacht trip to the Master and asked if He could make it the following Monday, but the Master had several appointments Monday and could not accept for that day.
     "I will try," said Percy, "to get the yacht for Tuesday."
     The Master had planned to spend the whole evening with us and we were all to go for a walk, but the Persians had forgotten to announce at the Seventy-Eighth Street house that He would be absent Friday evening, so He felt He must return early.

My Lord came into our house. The door was not locked. He opened it Himself and walked up the stairs. It was His house. Mamma almost ran to meet Him, her face suffused with joy, her eyes shy and tender. The MacNutts and the Goodalls had arrived and Ruth Berkeley and Marjorie, and were waiting in the second-floor living room. The Master went in and greeted them with His wonderful buoyant greeting; then I took Him to my room to rest and, after kneeling and kissing the hem of His garment, left Him lying on my couch.
Kahlil Gibran
     While He was resting Kahlil Gibran came. He had a private talk with the Master in my room; then joined us upstairs in the studio, to which we had all gone by that time, and in a very few minutes the Master too joined us.
     Mamma, with her own loving hands, had prepared the studio for His reception and it was very beautiful, full of laurel, white roses, and lighted white candles.

"What a good room," said the Master as He entered it. "It is like an Oriental room--so high. If I were to build a house here," He laughed, "I would build an eclectic house--partly Oriental, partly Occidental."
     Then we passed the refreshments and our Beloved Lord "broke bread" with us.

(Footnote. Of course I was terribly disappointed that the Master stayed such a short time that night. A few days later I began to see that this was no accident, that the changing of His plan for that evening had not been just a result of the Persians' forgetfulness, but that in it was a deep and subtle lesson for me. A lesson in perception--or intuition--which is truth itself. I had asked the Master whom I should invite to meet Him. "Anyone you think of," He answered. "Whatever name comes into your mind, invite that person." A few names came into my mind as if projected there from outside. Percy Grant. At once I rejected that name, on Mamma's account, as I have explained already. Mrs Krug. Oh no! Mamma wasn't fond of Mrs Krug. Mrs Kaufman. No. Then I selected my personal friends. Mrs Krug and Mrs Kaufman both were extremely hurt because I didn't invite them and what harmony there was between us was broken for the time being. As for Percy Grant ... !)

ah, what a human and spiritual lesson! 

 A second entry from Mahmud, this one dated Friday, July 12, 1912: a luster on the greatness of this mighty century

"As the heat was excessive and because He had been revealing Tablets and visiting with the friends, `Abdu'l-Bahá was tired. We said that there was a bath in the house and that the Master could have His bath every day. He said: `We are like soldiers; we must not form any habits or have a care for anything.'
At another time He was asked how He liked the large buildings of America. He replied:
I have not come to see very tall buildings or places of interest in America. I look always for the foundation of the love of God in the realm of the hearts. I have no inclination to see other sights.
At a meeting with the friends in the afternoon He explained the uniqueness of the divine teachings of this great Cause. Among them are the establishment of the Covenant and the Expounder of the Book [`Abdu'l-Bahá], thereby closing the door on the differences that have arisen at the inception of past Dispensations; association with all religions; the prohibition of cursing or execrating other sects; the commandment to forgive enemies; the oneness of humanity and universal brotherhood; the giving and taking in marriage from all nationalities; the injunctions to parents to educate their children, whether boys or girls; the equality of the rights of men and women; the establishment of the supreme House of Justice as the center of authority; and finally the relinquishing of religious, patriotic, racial and political prejudices. His talk was long and very detailed.
     In the evening `Abdu'l-Bahá was invited to Brooklyn and we accompanied Him. On the way He spoke about New York's large population and the occupations of the people:
     This city with its suburbs has about half the population of Persia. If Persia had a population and an affluence like this, and had she turned herself to progress, she would have far excelled this country in all respects. There can be no comparison whatsoever between these people and the manners, love, hospitality, intuition and sagacity of the Persians.
      He then described the days of the Blessed Beauty's sojourn in Constantinople, the self-subsistence and grandeur of the Ancient Beauty and the testimony of Mírzá Husayn Khán, who had said in Tihrán that there was only one person, Bahá'u'lláh, who had been the cause of glory and exaltation of the Persians in foreign lands and who did not court anyone's favor in that city.
After approximately an hour's drive, the carriage stopped at the home of Mrs Newton and Mrs Rivers. After a short rest, `Abdu'l-Bahá went to the table for dinner. Afterwards, He thanked the hostesses, spoke briefly and then returned home. On the way back He spoke about the difference in time between the East and the West. `Here it is almost midnight', He said, `while in the East it is midday and in other countries it is afternoon. Here we are going to sleep, while in the East they are busy doing work.'
     While the carriage was in motion it felt less hot but the long distance and the exceedingly hot weather took their toll on `Abdu'l-Bahá. The carriage crossed the Hudson River, passing through the length of the city, which was bedecked with gas and electric lamps of red, yellow and green and colorful advertisements along its wide streets and in the shops. The light emanating from them threw a luster on the greatness of this mighty century. Then the carriage reached home."

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