Dedicated to the Hands of the Cause of God

Dedicated to the Hands of the Cause of God

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Treasure of Baha'i Stories

Prepared for the presentation, “‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Travels To The West: A Treasure of Stories For The World” by Mr. Kiser Barnes – 23 December 2008  

1.  Who knows what thoughts flooded the heart of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (during His travels in the West)  . . . above all His thoughts must have centered on Bahá'u'lláh, Whom He loved so passionately and Whose trials He had witnessed and had shared from His boyhood.  The vermin-infested Siyah-Chal of Tihran; the bastinado inflicted upon Him in Amul; the humble fare which filled His kashkul while He lived for two years the life of a dervish in the mountains of Kurdistan; the days in Baghdad when He did not even possess a change of linen, and when His followers subsisted on a handful of dates; His confinement behind the prison-walls of 'Akká, when for nine years even the sight of verdure was denied Him; and the public humiliation to which He was subjected at government headquarters in that city – pictures from the tragic past such as these must have many a time overpowered Him with feelings of mingled gratitude and sorrow, as He witnessed the many marks of respect, of esteem, and honor now shown Him and the Faith which He represented.  "O Bahá'u'lláh! What hast Thou done?" He, as reported by the chronicler of His travels, was heard to exclaim one evening as He was being swiftly driven to fulfil His third engagement of the day in Washington, "O Bahá'u'lláh! May my life be sacrificed for Thee! O Bahá'u'lláh! May my soul be offered up for Thy sake! How full were Thy days with trials and tribulations! How severe the ordeals Thou didst endure! How solid the foundation Thou hast finally laid, and how glorious the banner Thou didst hoist!"  "One day, as He was strolling," that same chronicler has testified, "He called to remembrance the days of the Blessed Beauty, referring with sadness to His sojourn in Sulaymaniyyih, to His loneliness and to the wrongs inflicted upon Him.  Though He had often recounted that episode, that day He was so overcome with emotion that He sobbed aloud in His grief. . . All His attendants wept with Him, and were plunged into sorrow as they heard the tale of the woeful trials endured by the Ancient Beauty, and witnessed the tenderness of heart manifested by His Son."
A most significant scene in a century-old drama had been enacted.  A glorious chapter in the history of the first Bahá'í century had been written.  Seeds of undreamt-of potentialities had, with the hand of the Center of the Covenant Himself, been sown in some of the fertile fields of the Western world.  Never in the entire range of religious history had any Figure of comparable stature arisen to perform a labor of such magnitude and imperishable worth.  Forces were unleashed through those fateful journeys which even now, at a distance of well nigh thirty-five years, we are unable to measure or comprehend.  Already a Queen, inspired by the powerful arguments adduced by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the course of His addresses in support of the Divinity of Muhammad, has proclaimed her faith, and borne public testimony to the Divine origin of the Prophet of Islam – Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, pp. 292 – 294

2.  “Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible.  The Great Being saith: One word may be likened unto fire, another unto light, and the influence both exert is manifest in the world.  Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility.  And likewise He saith: one word is like unto the springtime causing the tender saplings of the rose-garden of knowledge to become verdant and flourishing, while another word is even as a deadly poison.  It behoveth a prudent man of wisdom to speak with utmost leniency and forbearance so that the sweetness of his words may induce everyone to attain that which befitteth man’s station.”– Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 172,173

3.   “The sanctified souls should ponder and meditate in their hearts regarding the methods of teaching.  From the texts of the wondrous heavenly Scriptures they should memorize phrases and passages bearing on various instances, so that in the course of their speech they may recite its divine verses whenever the occasion demandeth it, inasmuch as these holy verses are the most potent elixir, the greatest and mightiest talisman.  So potent is their influence that the hearer will have no cause for vacillation.  I swear by My life!  This Revelation is endowed with such a power that it will act as the lodestone for all nations and kindreds of the earth.” – Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p.200

4.  “Today the magnetic power that attracts heavenly blessings is teaching the Cause of God.  Whoever arises to perform this service the armies of the angels will grant him victory.  The three conditions of teaching the Cause of God are the science of sociability, purity of deeds and sweetness of speech.  I hope each one of you may become confirmed with these three attributes.” – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, cited in Esselemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p.83

5.  “Promote ye the development of the cities of God and His countries, and glorify Him therein in the joyous accents of His well-favoured ones.  In truth, the hearts of men are edified through the power of the tongue, even as houses and cities are built up by the hand and other means.  We have assigned to every end a means for its accomplishment; avail yourselves thereof, and place your trust and confidence in God, the Omniscient, the All-Wise.” – Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 160

6.  “In one of His Tablets. . . ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has stressed that when Bahá’ís deliver their speeches in gatherings, they are to do so in an attitude of utmost humility and self-abnegation” – Kitab-i-Aqdas, Note 168, p.237

7.  “The teacher should not consider himself as learned and others ignorant.  Such a thought breedeth pride, and pride is not conducive to influence.  The teacher should not see in himself any superiority; he should speak with the utmost kindness, lowliness and humility, for such speech exerteth influence and educateth the souls.” – Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p.30

8.  “Far from thundering at an individual or excoriating him, if the Master wished to address someone’s failing, He might tell a story showing the way for the individual to overcome it: a general story, addressed to a group – often an amusing story, and all would laugh – and the one for whom the hidden point was intended would understand, learn and not be hurt.” – Marzieh Gail, Summon Up Remembrance, p. 271

9.  A story told by Haji Mirza Haydar Ali on the influence of the Word of God, quoted in Adib Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, Vol. 4, p.238:  “A certain person who was a pious and devoted Muslim was introduced to me.  No matter how much I spoke to him, he kept on insisting that he would never accept the Faith unless he was shown a miracle.  In the end I was powerless to convince him of the truth of the Faith.  So I said to him. “There is an inherent ability within every soul by which it can distinguish the words of God from the words of man.”  He agreed with me on this.  I then said to him, “I will recite some words for you, so incline your inner ears to them and judge for yourself who is the Speaker.”  I then chanted a Persian Tablet in which the overpowering majesty of the Words was clearly manifested.  He had heard only a few verses when he lowered his head, prostrated himself on the ground, and said, “These are the words of God, exalted be His glory.  There are many miracles hidden in each word.  I testify that these utterances unmistakably proclaim the advent of the Day of God . . . He stayed with us for the whole night, during which he learnt about the teachings and laws of the new Dispensation.  The man became enraptured and set aglow with the fire of the love of God…”

10.   Mrs. Parsons recorded in her diary that during a gathering at the home of her friends ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told stories.  “I begged for the ‘Story of Ios’, which is the only story I ever heard of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá telling.  It is a pretty story with a moral.  After he told the story, He said, “now let me tell you an Arabian story – and it isn’t going to be a sermon!”  This he did, to the accompaniment of peals of laughter, repeated again and again as climax after climax was reached.  Needless to say, ‘‘Abdu’l-Bahá brought out every subtle point in the brilliant story.  And the mental picture of this beautiful Oriental telling the story with all the enthusiasm of the story tellers of old is one never to be forgotten.” – The Diary of Agnes Parsons, Unpublished p.105

11.  “There was a luncheon held in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s honor at which were gathered a group of society’s intelligentsia to meet a noteworthy personality.  Most of those present at this luncheon party knew a little of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life history, and presumably, were expecting a dissertation from Him on the Bahá’í Cause.  The hostess had suggested to the Master that He speak on the subject of immortality.  However as the meal progressed, and no more than the usual commonplaces of polite society were mentioned, the hostess made an opening, as she thought, for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to speak on spiritual things.
 “His response to this was to ask if he might tell them a story, and He related one of the Oriental tales of which He had a great store and at its conclusion all laughed heartily.  The ice was broken.  Others added stories of which the Master’s anecdote had reminded them.  Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, His face beaming with happiness, told another story, and another.  His laughter rang throughout the room.  He said the Orientals had many such stories illustrating different phases of life.  Many of them are extremely humorous.  It is good to laugh.  Laughter is a spiritual relaxation.  When they were in prison, He said, and under the utmost deprivation and difficulties, each of them at the close of the day would relate the most ludicrous event which had happened.  Sometimes it was a little difficult to find one but always they would laugh until the tears rolled down their cheeks.  Happiness, He said, is never dependent upon material surroundings, otherwise how sad those years would have been.  As it was they were always in the utmost state of joy and happiness.” – Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom,
 p. 117–120

12.  LIFE STORY –  “Another member of the party was Robert Turner, Phoebe Hearst’s butler, the first black to embrace the Bahá’í Faith in the Western world.  Carried away by the power of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s love, he remained firm – even during Mrs. Hearst’s estrangement from the Cause – till the very end of his days.
     “The following account was found in Ali-Kuli Khan’s papers, and bears a note in Florence’s hand saying ‘Written by [your] father in reply to Mrs. Ella Cooper’s questions.’
     ‘In the spring of 1909 when I was in California as a guest of Mrs. Hearst . . ., Mrs. Hearst, who had informed me of the illness of Robert Turner. . . suggested my going with her to San Francisco to call on Robert.  I found him quite ill in bed.  He was happy to receive me and inquired of the news in ‘Akká.  He then, with great joy, described his visit to ‘Akká in the company of Mrs. Hearst, a few years before the end of the last century.  He asked me to write and send his love to the Master and ask for His prayers.
     ‘Soon after, I wrote the Master and described our visit with Robert Turner.  In a Tablet which I received from the Master later in Washington, He wrote four lines regarding Robert Turner which I translate as follows: “Convey wondrous Abhá greetings to Mr. Robert, the servant of that honourable lady, and say to him: “Be not grieved at your illness, for thou hast attained eternal life and hast found the way to the World of the Kingdom.  God willing, we shall meet one another with joy and fragrance in that Divine World, and I beg of God that you may also find rest in this material world.”
     ‘In the summer of 1909, I received from the Master a Tablet acknowledging my letter of June 22, in which I had reported the death of Robert Turner . . . The Master writes as follows: “As to Mr. Robert (Turner), the news of his ascension saddened the hearts.  He was in reality in the utmost sincerity. Glory be to God!  What a shining candle was aflame in that black-colored lamp.  Praise be to Gold that that lighted candle ascended from the earthly lamp to the Kingdom of Eternity and gleamed and became aflame in the Heavenly Assemblage.  Praise be to God that you adorned his blessed finger with the ring bearing the inscription:  ‘Verily I originated from God and returned unto Him’ . . . This too is a proof of his sincerity and that in his last breath, he breathed the Alláh-u-Abhá, whereby the hearts of those present were impressed.
     ‘ “O Thou Creator! O Thou forgiver! Glorify the precious Robert in Thy Kingdom and in the garden of the Paradise of Abhá.  Bring him in[to] intimate association with the birds of the celestial meadow.  O Thou Knowing God!  Although that sinless one was black in color, like unto the black pupil of the eye, he was a source of shining light.
     ‘ “O Thou forgiving Lord!  Cause that longing one to attain Thy meeting and cause that thirsty one to drink the water of life in abundance.  Thou art the Forgiver, the Pardoner, the Compassionate.” ’ –     Marzieh Gail, Arches of the Years, pp.54, 55

13.  PARABLE – He was asked at a meeting of August 6, 1912, in New Hampshire, “Are not all Christians Bahá’ís?  Is there any difference?”  His answer, illustrated by parable, was as follows: “When Christians act according to the teachings of Christ, they are called Bahá’ís.  For the foundations of Christianity and the religion of Bahá’u’lláh are one.  The foundations of all the divine Prophets and Holy Books are one.  The difference among them is one of terminology only.  Each springtime is identical with the former springtime.  The distinction between them is only one of the calendar –1911, 1912, and so on.  The difference between a Christian and a Bahá’í, therefore is this: There was a former springtime, and there is a springtime now.  No other difference exists because the foundations are the same.  Whosoever acts completely in accordance with the teachings of Christ is a Bahá’í . . .
     “Let me illustrate further.  A certain person bestowed a coin upon five beggars. They resolved to spend it for food.  The Englishman said, “Buy grapes.”  The Turk wanted uzum, the Arab anab, the Greek stafili, the Persian angur.  Not understanding each other’s language, they quarreled and fought.  A stranger came along.  He was familiar with all five languages.  He said “Give me the coin; I will buy what you wish.”  When he brought them grapes, they were all satisfied.  They wanted the same thing but differed in the term only.  Briefly, when reality dawns in the midst of the religions, all will be unified and reconciled.”  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 247,248

14.  HISTORICAL –  “It has been objected by some that woman is not equally capable with man and that she is deficient by creation.  This is pure imagination.  The difference in capacity between man and woman is due entirely to opportunity and education.  Heretofore woman has been denied the right and privilege of equal development.  If equal opportunity be granted her, there is no doubt she would be the peer of man.  History will evidence this.  In past ages noted women have arisen in the affairs of nations and surpassed men in their accomplishments.  Among them was Zenobia, Queen of the East, whose capital was Palmyra.  Even today the site of that city bears witness to her greatness, ability and sovereignty; for there the traveler will find ruins of palaces and fortifications of the utmost strength and solidity built by this remarkable woman in the third century after Christ.  She was the wife of the governor-general of Athens.  After her husband’s death she assumed control of the government . . . and ruled her province most efficiently.  Afterwards she conquered Syria, subdued Egypt and founded a most wonderful kingdom with political sagacity and thoroughness.  The Roman Empire sent a great army against her.  When this army replete with martial splendor reached Syria, Zenobia herself appeared upon the field leading her forces.  On the day of battle she arrayed herself in regal garments, placed a crown upon her head and rode forth, sword in hand, to meet the invading legions.  By her courage and military strategy the Roman army was routed and so completely dispersed that they were not able to reorganize in retreat.  The government of Rome held consultation, saying, “No matter what commander we send, we cannot overcome her; therefore, the Emperor Aurelian himself must go to lead the legions of Rome against Zenobia.”  Aurelian marched into Syria with two hundred thousand soldiers.  The army of Zenobia was greatly inferior in size.  The Romans besieged her in Palmyra two years without success.  Finally, Aurelian was able to cut off the city’s supply of provisions so that she and her people were compelled by starvation to surrender.  She was not defeated in battle.  Aurelian carried her captive to Rome.  On the day of his entry into the city he arranged a triumphal procession –first elephants, then lions, tigers, birds, monkeys – after the monkeys, Zenobia.  A crown was upon her head, a chain of gold about her neck.  With queenly dignity and unconscious of humiliation, looking to the right and left, she said, “Verily, I glory in being a woman and in having withstood the Roman Empire.” (At that time the dominion of Rome covered half the known earth.) “And this chain about my neck is a sign not of humiliation but of glorification.  This is a symbol of my power, not of my defeat.”
    “Among other historical women was Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great.  Russia and Turkey were at war.  Muhammad Pasha, commander of the Turkish forces, had defeated Peter and was about to take St. Petersburg.  The Russians were in a most critical position.  Catherine, the wife of Peter said, “I will arrange this matter.”  She had an interview with Muhammad Pasha, negotiated a treaty of peace and induced him to turn back.  She saved her husband and her nation.  This was a great accomplishment.  Afterward she was crowned Empress of Russia and ruled with wisdom until her death.
      “The discovery of America by Columbus was during the reign of Isabella of Spain, to whose intelligence and assistance this wonderful accomplishment was largely due.  In brief, many remarkable women have appeared in the history of the world . . .” – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 135,136

15.  FOLKLORE – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was steeped in Persian, Arabic and Turkish storytelling traditions.   During and after his visit to America in 1912, many of his speeches were reported in Star of the West.  His presentation of the folktale below is an example of the power of stories, when at the gathering He explained that  “. . . in the world of spirit, the hearts speak with each other.
“There once was organized in Persia a society whose chief characteristic was that they spoke without the tongue, and with the slightest sign could communicate many important matters.  This society progressed to such a degree that with the motion of a finger abstruse matters could be understood.  The government feared that they might organize a society against the government and since none could understand their purpose, they might work great mischief.  Therefore they suppressed them.  I wish to tell you a story about this society.  Anyone who desired to join it had to stand at the door.  Then they consulted with each other by signs and gave their opinion without speaking.  Once a person with an awful looking visage stood at the door.  The president looked at his face and saw what an awful looking figure he had.  There was a cup on the table, containing water.  The president poured in some water until it was full to the brim.  This was the sign that there was no room among them for that person.  But the man was intelligent.  He took a tiny piece of flower leaf and with the utmost deference entered the room and put it on the surface of the water in the cup.  He laid it so carefully that the water in the cup did not move.  All were delighted.  He meant that he did not need a big place, that he was like the flower leaf which does not need a place.  They clapped their hands and accepted him.” – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. VII, p.81

16.  ‘Long ago, in the city of Baghdad there was a caliph.  One day a son was born to him.  It was the firstborn.  In celebration, he ordered a feast to be held.  To the feast he invited all the great and well-known people in the land.  On the day of the feast all the guests arrived, each bringing a gift for the child.  There were gifts of gold, rare jewels, rich tapestries, carved marble.  Everyone brought a gift-except one young sage called Meheled Abi. He came empty-handed. The caliph, taking offence, ordered the guards to seize Meheled Abi.  Roughly, the guards dragged the young sage before the caliph, who demanded, “Why do you come without a gift?”
     ‘The young sage shrugged and answered, “These others, they bring visible riches; they bring gold, jewels, carpets.  But my gift is an invisible wealth.  It is this.  Each day, when the child is old enough to hear, I will come to the palace and tell him stories.  When he is grown, he will be wise and compassionate.”
     ‘Meheled Abi did as he promised.  Each day he came to the palace and the young boy grew up hearing stories.  After many years, the old caliph died and the young boy, now grown, succeeded his father.  Just as Meheled Abi promised, the new caliph was wise and compassionate, more so than any ruler before him.  And when he died, at his request a tomb was erected in the heart of the city with these words inscribed in stone: “If I am wise, it is because of the seed sown by the tales.” ’ – “The Sage’s Gift” (Baltuck, 1995)  pp.108,109

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