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Only one of the central figures of a world religion has ever visited the modern West: Abdu’l-Baha.

Named Baha’u’llah’s successor and the exemplar of the Baha’i teachings, Abdu’l-Baha articulated Baha’u’llah’s world-embracing vision and established the nascent Faith as a powerful new force for social change and the renewal of religion.

Abdu'l-Baha giving a talk in London

Abdu’l-Baha giving a talk in London

Released from prison after the Young Turk revolution in the Ottoman Empire in 1908, Abdu’l-Baha began to travel, first to Europe and Britain, and then to North America. He was 64 years old, a prisoner of conscience for his entire adult life, with no formal schooling, no experience in the modern urban world, and no secular position or power.

And yet, his visits to the West drew enormous crowds, audiences with the political and philosophical leaders of the time, and massive media attention. He gave hundreds of addresses, speeches, interviews and talks, all focused on the Baha’i ideals of unity. He advanced the concept of the essential harmony and cohesion of all the world’s major religions, repeatedly emphasizing the commonalities of Faith. He advocated for a spiritual approach to the world’s endemic social problems, laying out the Baha’i solutions: international peace backed by a global government; an end to violence of all kinds; the complete emancipation of women; uncompromising racial equality based on the overriding principle of the oneness of humanity; the agreement of science and religion; and his insistence that religion must become the cause of love and unity among all peoples or face extinction.

Most of all, however, Abdu’l-Baha’s visits to the West centered around that timeless and mystical call God has repeatedly delivered to humanity in all the great Faiths—to transcend the self and become selfless:

O son of spirit! Burst thy cage asunder, and even as the phoenix of love soar into the firmament of holiness. Renounce thyself and, filled with the spirit of mercy, abide in the realm of celestial sanctity. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, pp. 35-36.

Regarding the statement in The Hidden Words, that man must renounce his own self, the meaning is that he must renounce his inordinate desires, his selfish purposes and the promptings of his human self, and seek out the holy breathings of the spirit, and follow the yearnings of his higher self, and immerse himself in the sea of sacrifice, with his heart fixed upon the beauty of the All-Glorious. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 207.

Abdu’l-Baha asked everyone to widen their focus. He encouraged each person he met to always consider the spiritual consequences of their deeds. He constantly urged people, through his actions, to serve others. He repeatedly and gently suggested that human maturation involves an expansive consciousness of the oneness of all. He said, over and over, that the active realization of the unity of humanity means ignoring the selfish promptings of our lower nature and working to replace them with the selfless promptings of our higher nature.

During his first trip to London, England, Abdu’l-Baha recounted this imagined, symbolic fragment of dialogue between human beings and God’s messengers:

Always, man has confronted the Prophets with this: ‘We were enjoying ourselves, and living according to our own opinions and desires.

We ate; we slept; we sang; we danced. We had no fear of God, no hope of Heaven; we liked what we were doing, we had our own way. And then you came. You took away our pleasures. You told us now of the wrath of God, again of the fear of punishment and the hope of reward. You upset our good way of life.’

The Prophets of God have always replied: ‘You were content to stay in the animal world, We wanted to make you human beings. You were dark, We wanted you illumined; you were dead, We wanted you alive. You were earthly, We wanted you heavenly.’ – Baha’i World, Volume 13, p. 1187.

2 Comments

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  • Dec 01, 2014
    When a situation is quite drastic one at times must be as blunt and as challenging as in the extract you have wisely chosen from Baha'i World. Speaking of widening one's focus David please consider including the principle of a universal auxiliary language when enumerating the fundamental principles of the Faith - even in an abridged form. It demonstrably holds a crucial, even overarching, position vis-a-vis the eventual and long over due triumph of the Cause; it has demonstrably been misunderstood and misinterpreted by generations of Baha'i authors; it has been willfully neglected by the wider world; it ...is little understood by rank and file Baha'is notwithstanding its importance in the Declaration of Human Rights and in the four priorities of the Universal House of Justice for two decades: For example, in my possession are Bahá’í Declaration-Membership (enrolment) cards in official use for many years and an equally acclaimed poster listing the fundamental principles of the Faith – with the glaring exception in both instances that the language principle is absent. Even the very well resourced Encylopedia Iranica omits it in the eleven enumerated “basic principles of Bahaism” and misleadingly under the nearby rubric Social Principles overlooks the crucial clarification “auxiliary” : “To unite the world Bahais advocate the adoption of a universal language, to be chosen by the leaders of the world.” http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/bahaism-i I'm not suggesting David that you aim at comprehensiveness in your 'Role Model' list but I feel that we Baha'is have some ground to make up vis-a-vis the language principle. I mean, ask yourself, when was the last time you attended an in depth talk on this principle given by a scholar or organized and encouraged as an ongoing Baha'i conversation by Baha'i notables or reported seriously in Baha'i media or or or....? For example, amidst 150 minutes of a professional production, which in no small way draws its inspiration from The Promulgation of Universal Peace (see pp.107,6,44) which in essence, as with the Promise of World Peace, Seven Candles of Unity, and Tablet to the Hague etc, amounts to a description of the principles, a recent DVD entitled Luminous Journey ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in America – 1912 cites a dozen times, among many Bahá’í principles, the equality of rights for women and men while neglecting entirely the language principle.
    Baha'i love
    Paul
    PS (Given that for a decade as a younger and healthier being I had the undeserved honor of promoting inter alia equal rights for men and women in various universities in China you'll appreciate that I never decry any of the eternal principles of the Faith.)
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  • Dec 01, 2014
    Wow! I have neve1r read that quote from Baha'i World! Thank you!