Talk given by me at the Geelong InterFaith Network Meeting, 7th February, 2011.
I am glad that my presentation happens to coincide with World Interfaith Harmony Week. 1-7 February 2011, for “My Hero”, Abdu’l-Bahá is in my view, among the greatest champions of spiritual harmony in religious history.
There are the lives of many people I met some in person but mostly through literature, that I adore, I would like to follow and to emulate. Just to think of a few names like Gandhi of the Hindus, Saladin of the Muslims, Confucius of the Chinese, Mary McKellar of the Australians, St Francis of Assisi of Italy , Elizabeth of Hungary, I recently read about Rosando Salvano Xavier Conaci of Western Australia and John the Baptist Dirimera: this is a very inconclusive, perhaps one sided list from the top of my head. These people lived by their faith, affected and changed the lives of others, and some even gave their lives.
Gandhi too lived an exemplary life, brought freedom to India and forced change by non -violent means was finally assassinated for his troubles. There is another the man Jack Simpson Kirkpatrick and his donkey, an Anzac of English origin who by risking his own life rescued over 300 wounded soldiers from certain death.
There is even a young Hungarian called Orbán Viktor who as a young student dared in 1989 to demand before a half a million people present and another few million watching on TV that the Russians leave Hungary and give his country back his independence.
Presently he is the Prime Minister of Hungary and just recently he took on international capital by taxing the profits of those who made money without producing anything e.g. the banks and speculators and those who so far have been able to avoid taxation.
Yet as a Bahá’í ‘Abdu’l- Bahá is my hero. His eloquence and His life stand before me as a shining light leading out of a desert of conflicts, greed, egotism and selfishness.
He taught the coming together of religions of the East and the West like St Frances of Assisi, he suggest non-violent means for the achievement of true freedom like Gandhi, and even as a young child he lied down his life-long service not only for all humanity, but cared with his own hands for individuals as well” the sick and despised like for example Mother Theresa.
“To be a Bahá’í is to love all humanity.” Was his motto and he lived all his life to this precept.
‘Abdu'l-Bahá, The Most Mighty Branch
"Seldom have I seen one whose appearance impressed me more. A tall strongly-built man holding himself straight as an arrow, with white turban and raiment, long black locks reaching almost to the shoulder, broad powerful forehead indicating a strong intellect combined with an unswerving will, eyes keen as a hawk's, and strongly-marked but pleasing features--such was my first impression of 'Abbas Effendi, "the master" as he par excellence is called.... One more eloquent of speech, more ready of argument, more apt of illustration, more intimately acquainted with the sacred books of the Jews, the Christians, the Muhammadans, could, I should think, scarcely be found even amongst the eloquent, ready, and subtle race to which he belongs. These qualities, combined with a bearing at once majestic and genial, made me cease to wonder at the influence and esteem which he enjoyed even beyond the circle of his father's followers. About the greatness of this man and his power no one who had seen him could entertain a doubt."
-- Edward G. Browne, a Cambridge scholar who initially met `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1890, and came to know Him well.
Wars and Rumours of wars:
Why this great unrest -- wars and the rumors of wars, changing of dynasties, earthquakes, cataclysms? The people cry "Peace, peace; when there is no peace!" Are not these the outer sign that man has lost the inner truth? Students in every land who have stepped out of the stream of humanity remind us of the holy books of history -- all of which foretell the coming of a great Messiah or world teacher. Once again the wheel has turned and brought man face to face with truth. Truth is the handmaid of the prophet. Can there be a handmaid without the prophet?
Abdul Bahá is the law establisher, as he was the first to live by these laws. He was born in the city of Teheran, Persia, May 23, 1844 coincidentally this is the day of the beginning of the Bahá’í Calendar,
A movement comes from the East which claims to be the divine instrument for bringing unity into the world. For this reason, if for no other, it deserves attention. Its claims are too vital and important to be overlooked. The wonderful lives of its founders command interest. The courageous lives of its followers and their uncompromising sacrifice for this cause form a chapter that has no parallel in history.”
He taught that ’When a great force is liberated by the entrance of a divine being into the world arena, it must of necessity express itself through the vehicle of a human temple, and the objective expression of this force manifests itself in thoughts of different grades and degrees according to the capacity of the people. The master-teachers are the expounders of divine common sense which is the pathway to a knowledge of universal law, the result of which will be a harmonious humanity. Man confines his consciousness to this material plane. This new force will liberate him and he will become conscious of many planes and of the ultimate oneness of them all.
Leo Tolstoy in one of his books says that we spend our lives attempting to unravel the mystery of life, but adds, "There is a Persian, a Turkish prisoner, who knows the secret." Tolstoy was one of those who was in communication with Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s father. Soon from all parts of the world people journeyed to Acca. They wrote accounts of their visits and these, with the letters or tablets from ‘Abdul Bahá, were widely distributed. The city of Akka became a centre of pilgrimage. Around the board of Abdul Bahá gathered all races and creeds -- it was the only place on earth where Christians, Moslems, Jews, Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Hindus met and ate together in perfect harmony and understanding.
After his liberation, in 1908, at the earnest solicitation of friends, Abdul Bahá made an extensive tour of Europe and America, bringing the message of the new creational day from shore to shore; speaking in churches of every denomination, in the synagogues, before many 12 clubs, societies, universities and congresses. So swiftly has this cause spread that it has encircled the globe within a few years.
What did he teach?
"The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and the fundamental oneness of religion. War shall cease between the nations and by the will of God the most great peace shall come; the world will be seen as a new world and all men will live as brothers."
He taught the equality of women and men.
“I hope for a like degree of progress among the women of Europe -- that each may shine like unto a lamp; that they may cry out the proclamation of the kingdom; that they may truly assist the men; nay, that they may be even superior to the men, versed in sciences and yet detached, so that the whole world may bear witness to the fact that men and women have absolutely the same rights. It would be a cause of great joy for me to see such women. This is useful work; by it woman will enter into the kingdom. Otherwise, there will be no results.”
He taught the fundamental oneness of religion:
“Moses was neither a philosopher nor a scientist. Outwardly he was but a simple shepherd, but he was able to instruct and develop a whole nation which had been in a state of demoralization; but which through his influence reached a very enlightened civilization. Jesus Christ did not come from the world of princes or scientists. Outwardly he was but an humble artisan, his disciples simple fishermen. Why were these disciples able to do what philosophers and scientists failed to accomplish? You have the example in Peter who was assisted by the Holy Spirit, as have been all those who have enlightened humanity -- for universal education can be accomplished only through the Holy Spirit.
Mohammed through his power was enabled to elevate a nation, for on his teachings a mighty civilization was constructed in the Arabian peninsula, the influence of which, as recorded in history, extended as far west as Spain. Let us be just. When a being, alone, in the midst of a savage tribe begins by teaching them and finally succeeds in raising them to a high degree of civilization, we must admit that he has an extraordinary power. What I mean is this -- philosophy and science will not suffice to elevate and civilize a people who are in a bestial condition.
It is wrong to accept only what your own Faith teaches as truth:
Certain religious teachers, however, think only of their creeds. They believe a holy war can conquer the world. They reason thus: "All the other religious teachers are in error and I am obliged to chastise them and show them their mistakes for their own salvation."
The belief of the friends of God (that is of Bahá’ís quite different. They believe that one must affiliate with all, love all humanity and seek ever to better its condition. God is one, the true shepherd of all creation. Let us be kind to every one in order to unify the world and spread affection abroad.
If a man be just, kind, humble and merciful and his qualities are acquired through the will-power -- this is Godlike.
This relevant today to what some in the media refer to as the “War of Civilisations”
“From the beginning the followers of all religions have believed in two seas, -- one salt and one fresh; in two trees -- the tree of good and the tree of evil. For this men have called one another heretics. Misinterpreting the divine commands, men have acquired prejudices and on these prejudices they have waged religious wars and caused bloodshed. Behold what is happening to-day! Men are killing their brothers, believing this to be the cause of salvation, believing that such work is approved by God, believing that those whom they kill will be sent to hell.
There is one humanity:
Bahá’u’lláh speaks to humanity in a different tone, declaring humanity to be like the leaves of a single branch, the branches of a single trunk.
“For the new day hath dawned -- awaken the sleeping ones! Thanks be to God, you are the beloved of the universe that love the whole world. Praise be to God your affection is for all, you are the enemies of none, lovers of humanity, a precious mine for the souls.
Thus will you disperse the heavy clouds of prejudice. The doors of the kingdom are open to you, the divine good news of the ages has come to you. Go further into the teachings and you will arrive at the splendours of divine mysteries. arm can refrain from striking. Justice, love and kindness must be the instruments of strength, not of weakness.”
The prophets are sent to refresh the dead body of the world, to render the dumb, eloquent, to give peace to the troubled, to make illumined the indifferent and to set free from the material world all beings who are its captives. Leave a child to himself and he becomes ill-mannered and thoughtless. He must be shown the path, so that he may become acquainted with the world of the soul - the world of divine gifts.
A Day in the Life of the Master
It is a noteworthy gathering. Many of these men are blind; many more are pale, emaciated, or aged.... Most of the women are closely veiled, but enough are uncovered to cause us well to believe that, if the veils were lifted, more pain and misery would be seen. Some of them carry babes with pinched and sallow faces. There are perhaps a hundred in this gathering, and besides, many children. They are of all the races one meets in these streets -- Syrians, Arabs, Ethiopians, and many others.
These people are ranged against the walls or seated on the ground, apparently in an attitude of expectation; -- for what do they wait? Let us wait with them.
We have not long to wait. A door opens and a man comes out. He is of middle stature, strongly built. He wears flowing light-colored robes. On his head is a light buff fez with a white cloth wound about it. He is perhaps sixty years of age. His long grey hair rests on his shoulders. His forehead is broad, full, and high, his nose slightly aquiline, his moustaches and beard, the latter full though not heavy, nearly white. His eyes are grey and blue, large, and both soft and penetrating. His bearing is simple, but there is grace, dignity, and even majesty about his movements. He passes through the crowd, and as he goes utters words of salutation. We do not understand them, but we see the benignity and the kindliness of his countenance. He stations himself at a narrow angle of the street and motions to the people to come towards him. They crowd up a little too insistently. He pushes them gently back and lets them pass him one by one. As they come they hold their hands extended. In each open palm he places some small coins. He knows them all. He caresses them with his hand on the face, on the shoulders, on the head. Some he stops and questions. An aged negro who hobbles up, he greets with some kindly inquiry; the old man's broad face breaks into a sunny smile, his white teeth glistening against his ebony skin as he replies. He stops a woman with a babe and fondly strokes the child. As they pass, some kiss his hand. To all he says, 'Marhabbah, marhabbah -- 'Well done, well done"!
So they all pass him. The children have been crowding around him with extended hands, but to them he has not given. However, at the end, as he turns to go, he throws a handful of coppers over his shoulder, for which they scramble.
During this time this friend of the poor has not been unattended. Several men wearing red fezzes, and with earnest and kindly faces, followed him from the house, stood near him and aided in regulating the crowd, and now, with reverent manner and at a respectful distance, follow him away. When they address him they call him 'Master.'
This scene you may see almost any day of the year in the streets of `Akka. There are other scenes like it, which come only at the beginning of the winter season. In the cold weather which is approaching, the poor will suffer, for, as in all cities, they are thinly clad. Some day at this season, if you are advised of the place and time, you may see the poor of `Akka gathered at one of the shops where clothes are sold, receiving cloaks from the Master. Upon many, especially the most infirm or crippled, he himself places the garment, adjusts it with his own hands, and strokes it approvingly, as if to say, 'There! Now you will do well.' There are five or six hundred poor in `Akka, to all of whom he gives a warm garment each year.
On feast days he visits the poor at their homes. He chats with them, inquires into their health and comfort, mentions by name those who are absent, and leaves gifts for all.
Nor is it the beggars only that he remembers. Those respectable poor who cannot beg, but must suffer in silence--those whose daily labor will not support their families--to these he sends bread secretly. His left hand knoweth not what his right hand doeth.
All the people know him and love him--the rich and the poor, the young and the old,--even the babe leaping in its mother's arms. If he hears of any one sick in the city--[Muslim] or Christian, or of any other sect, it matters not--he is each day at their bedside, or sends a trusty messenger. If a physician is needed, and the patient poor, he brings or sends one, and also the necessary medicine. If he finds a leaking roof or a broken window menacing health, he summons a workman, and waits himself to see the breach repaired. If any one is in trouble--if a son or a brother is thrown into prison, or he is threatened at law, or falls into any difficulty too heavy for him--it is to the Master that he straightway makes appeal for counsel or for aid. Indeed, for counsel all come to him, rich as well as poor. He is the kind father of all people...
For more than thirty-four years this man has been a prisoner at `Akka. But his gaolers have become his friends. The Governor of the city, the Commander of the Army Corps, respect and honor him as though he were their brother. No man's opinion or recommendation has greater weight with them. He is the beloved of all the city, high and low. And how could it be otherwise? For to this man it is the law, as it was to Jesus of Nazareth, to do good to those who injure him. Have we yet heard of any one in lands which boast the name of Christ who lived that life?
Hear how he treats his enemies. One instance of many I have heard will suffice.
When the Master came to `Akka there lived there a certain man from Afghanistan, an austere and rigid [Muslim]. To him the Master was a heretic. He felt and nourished a great enmity towards the Master, and roused up others against him. When opportunity offered in gatherings of the people, as in the Mosque, he denounced him with bitter words.
'This man,' he said to all, 'is an imposter. Why do you speak to him? Why do you have dealings with him?' And when he passed the Master on the street he was careful to hold his robe before his face that his sight might not be defiled.
Thus did the Afghan. The Master, however did thus: The Afghan was poor and lived in a mosque; he was frequently in need of food and clothing. The Master sent him both. These he accepted, but without thanks. He fell sick. The Master took him a physician, food, medicine, money. These, also, he accepted; but as he held out one hand that the physician might take his pulse, with the other he held his cloak before his face that he might not look upon the Master. For twenty-four years the Master continued his kindnesses and the Afghan persisted in his enmity. Then at last one day the Afghan came to the Master's door, and fell down, penitent and weeping, at his feet.
'Forgive me, sir!' he cried. 'For twenty-four years I have done evil to you, for twenty-four years you have done good to me. Now I know that I have been in the wrong.'
The Master bade him rise, and they became friends.
The Master is as simple as his soul is great. He claims nothing for himself--neither comfort, nor honor, nor repose. Three or four hours of sleep suffice him; all the remainder of his time and all of his strength are given to the succour of those who suffer, in spirit or in body. 'I am,' he says, 'the servant of God.'
Such is `Abbas Effendi, the Master of `Akka
From Wikipedia: Juliet Thompson, one of Gibran's acquaintances, reported several anecdotes relating to Gibran: She recalls Gibran met `Abdu'l-Bahá, the leader of the Bahá’í Faith at the time of his visit to the United States, circa 1911-1912. Barbara Young, in “This Man from Lebanon: A Study of Khalil Gibran”, records Gibran was unable to sleep the night before meeting `Abdu’l-Bahá who sat for a pair of portraits. Thompson reports Gibran saying that all the way through writing of “Jesus, The Son of Man”, he thought of `Abdu’l-Bahá. Years later, after the death of `Abdu’l-Bahá, there was a viewing of the movie recording of `Abdu’l-Bahá - Gibran rose to talk and in tears, proclaimed an exalted station of `Abdu’l-Bahá and left the event weeping.12]
“I want you to paint my devotion to God.”
A poem by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
If I, like Abraham, through flames must go,
Or yet like John bloodstained road must run
If, Joseph-like, Thou'd cast me in a well,
Or shut me up within a prison cell --
Or make me e'en as poor as Mary's Son --
I will not go from Thee,
But ever stand
My soul and body bowed to Thy command
 John the Baptist