Mastery: The Unfolding (Abdu’l-Baha “The Master”) – by Dana Paxson

Mastery Dana PaxsonIn the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá’u’lláh Himself directed humanity to turn, on His passing, to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for understanding:

“O people of the world! When the Mystic Dove will have winged its flight from its Sanctuary of Praise and sought its far-off goal, its hidden habitation, refer ye whatsoever ye understand not in the Book to Him Who hath branched from this mighty Stock.”[1]

In a letter to some Bahá’ís in America, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made clear His unique station and spelled out its purpose:

“You have written that there is a difference among the believers concerning the ‘Second Coming of Christ.’ Gracious God! Time and again this question hath arisen, and its answer hath emanated in a clear and irrefutable statement from the pen of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, that what is meant in the prophecies by the ‘Lord of Hosts’ and the ‘Promised Christ’ is the Blessed Perfection (Bahá’u’lláh) and His holiness the Exalted One (the Báb). My name is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. My qualification is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. My reality is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. My praise is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Thraldom to the Blessed Perfection is my glorious and refulgent diadem, and servitude to all the human race my perpetual religion… No name, no title, no mention, no commendation have I, nor will ever have, except ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. This is my longing. This is my greatest yearning. This is my eternal life. This is my everlasting glory.”[2]

One superior testimony to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s station and purpose is the staggering outpouring of His works, both before and throughout His service as the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant from 1892 until His passing in 1921. This outpouring set forth the banquet of the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh for the entire human world at all levels and in all capacities. One all-too-brief summary is that of Moojan Momen:

“`Abdu’l-Bahá’s principal writings are his correspondence with numerous Bahá’ís, well-wishers, government officials, and others. He wrote primarily in Persian and Arabic but there is also a small amount of material in Ottoman Turkish. The Bahá’í World Center currently holds over 27,000 letters of `Abdu’l-Bahá and he must have written many more… Although most of `Abdu’l-Bahá’s correspondence is with individual Bahá’ís, some of it is addressed to Bahá’í groups and communities. The most important of the latter category are The Tablets of the Divine Plan… , written in 1916-17 and addressed to the Bahá’ís of North America, which Shoghi Effendi calls the “Charter” for the propagation of the Bahá’í Faith[3] … `Abdu’l-Bahá also wrote to organizations, such as the Central Organization for a Durable Peace at the Hague, and occasionally to newspapers, such as the Christian Commonwealth.

“`Abdu’l-Bahá wrote three books: The Secret of Divine Civilization (1875), A Traveler’s Narrative(q.v., 1886), and Risáliy-i-Siyásiyyih (Treatise on Politics, 1892-3). Two of these were written during the lifetime of his father; in later years he had little time for such work. Many talks of `Abdu’l-Bahá have been published. Some of these, such as Memorials of the Faithful … and Some Answered Questions, were read and corrected by him prior to publication. `Abdu’l-Bahá also wrote a large number of prayers, some Tablets of Visitation for prominent Bahá’ís, and some poetry. Lastly, there is `Abdu’l-Bahá’s Will and Testament…, which is referred to by Shoghi Effendi as the “Charter of Bahá’u’lláh’s New World Order”[4] … There is also a large body of literature consisting of pilgrims’ notes about their visit to `Abdu’l-Bahá.”[5]

‘Abdu’l-Bahá was born on May 23, 1844, just as the Báb was first declaring His mission to Mullá Husayn. In 1911, as He began His journeys in the West, He was suffering from appalling afflictions both physical and mental that had assailed Him during His 67-year life.

He had survived childhood tuberculosis; the traumas of His Father’s imprisonments; the desperate hardships of repeated exile; the repugnant, destructive, repeated betrayals by nearly all of His own family members of His Father, Himself, and the Covenant; and the vicious, heartless persecutions of the Ottoman Empire.

Yet despite all this, and as evidenced by His vast, lavish, and glorious output of wisdom in all His works, He held perfectly true to His own testimony as quoted earlier: “Thraldom to the Blessed Perfection is my glorious and refulgent diadem, and servitude to all the human race my perpetual religion…”.

No matter what topic came into His attention, He filled it with light and insight in His commentaries, often settling and resolving differences that had formerly caused contention among even the wisest. Two such commentaries, one written in His young years and one in the late stage of His adult life, deserve mention here, even as contemporary scholars work to render them for modern readers. They stand as examples of the treasures bestowed on us by the Master.

The first of these He wrote in His teens, in answer to a query in Baghdad by ‘Ali Shawkat Pashá. It is a commentary on the well-known Islamic tradition “I was a Hidden Treasure and loved to be known. Therefore I created the Creation that I might be known.”[6] This tradition evokes two of the Hidden Words, revealed by Bahá’u’lláh in Baghdad:

“O Son of Man!  Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.”[7]

“O Son of Man!  I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life.”[8]

In ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s commentary on this single tradition, He selects just four terms for His comments: “Hidden Treasure”, “Love”, “Creation”, and “Knowledge”. The rich profusion of the knowledge He pours out in His commentary runs to over 35 pages in one provisional translation. In it He cites the Sufi mystics and poets, the traditions of Islam, and the Qur’an itself, concluding magnificently with His own poem introduced by these words (here translated provisionally) which are themselves evocative of Bahá’u’lláh’s Hidden Words:   

“Close the eye to all but the Friend and gaze upon the Beauty; purify the hearing from all utterance so that you may hear a wondrous tune from the flute of the family of David.”[9]

In the Hidden Words, Bahá’u’lláh wrote:

“… Blind thine eyes, that is, to all save My beauty; stop thine ears to all save My word; empty thyself of all learning save the knowledge of Me; that with a clear vision, a pure heart and an attentive ear thou mayest enter the court of My holiness.”[10]

The parallels of the words of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá here are striking evidence of their coherence in the Covenant even before ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was named its Center. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself can perhaps be seen now as a “Hidden Treasure” at the time he wrote this commentary.

The second of the commentaries of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá mentioned here as an example was likely written in ‘Akká after the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh. Written in Ottoman Turkish, it is a commentary on the Islamic tradition “God doth give victory to this religion by means of a wicked man”[11] The translator, Necati Alkan, notes:

“In his commentary on this ḥadīth, ‘Abdu’l-Baha seems to ignore its negative context – the fact that the Prophet Muhammad referred to this person, though fighting alongside the Muslims, as one of the people of hell-fire (i.e. a person destined for hell) – and puts forth a more positive interpretation of the words ‘Inna’llāha yu’ayyidu hādhā’d-dīn bi-rajulin fājirin’ – ‘God doth give victory to this religion by means of a wicked man’. ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s tafsīr [commentary] here is in the Islamic tradition of giving the inner meaning (bāṭin) of the words.”[12]

In His commentary, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has reached into what appears to be the darkness of condemnation and from it has drawn divine illumination. From reading a provisional translation of His Tablet, one sees the Master penetrating the meanings to reveal praise and redemption for those who show heroism in advancing the Cause of God, irrespective of their outward allegiances. An excerpt from the translation, concerning the person identified in the hadith as “a wicked man”:

 “…he is the manifestation of the holy verse ‘He is fearing not the blame of any blamer[13]…’

“It is an illustrious person who with divine power distinguisheth pious deeds from evil acts, goodness from unseemliness, knowledge from ignorance, faith from unbelief, trustworthiness from treachery, the accepted from the rejected, guidance from the state of being astray, light from darkness, reality from metaphor, truthfulness from lie, loyalty from cruelty, and the upright from the hypocrite.”[14]

In this way the unique Center of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, on the opening threshold of a mighty Dispensation destined to last a half-million years, wafts away the clouds of past superstitions in a blaze of light, redemption, and fulfillment.

In this all-too-brief and inadequate segment, one hopes that some sense of the majestic, unprecedented, and unique station of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá emerges for readers. As He took a few words and phrases to unfold entire seas of wisdom flooding from His Father’s Dispensation, so we might consider immersing ourselves increasingly in these life-giving waters to elevate our beings, our lives, and the human world in general.

Our next segment focuses on the great journeys of the Master across the familiar seas of this world to open to all of humankind the far-greater seas of meaning of the infinitely-greater world.

 

 

 

NOTES

[1] Bahá’u’lláh, “The Most Holy Book” (Kitáb-i-Aqdas), para. 174.

[2] Quoted by Shoghi Effendi in “The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh”, p. 139.

[3] Shoghi Effendi, “Messages to the Bahá’í World”, 84.

[4] Shoghi Effendi, “God Passes By”, xv.

[5] From Moojan Momen, “’Abdu’l-Bahá”, VI. “Teachings and Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá”, 2., at http://bahai-library.com/momen_encyclopedia_abdulbaha .

[6] One of the most-famous and beloved of traditions in Islam, this is considered a hadíth-i-qudsí, meaning a rendering of God’s words through Muhammad presented as a tradition.

[7] Bahá’u’lláh, “The Hidden Words”, Arabic No. 3.

[8] Ibid., Arabic No. 4.

[9] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Commentary on the Islamic Tradition “I Was a Hidden Treasure…”’, Moojan Momen, translator, p. 34 just before the concluding verses, at http://bahai-library.com/abdulbaha_kuntu_kanzan_makhfiyyan .

[10] Bahá’u’lláh, “The Hidden Words”, from Persian No. 11.

[11] Taken from a lengthier narrative. In an article in Baha’i Studies Review 11 (2003) 53–57 offering the provisional translation, Necati Alkan notes, “The hadith (tradition) in question is from Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī, which is regarded by Sunni Muslims as the most reliable of the compilations of Islamic traditions.”

[12] Necati Alkan, “‘Abdu’l-Baha’s commentary on the Islamic tradition: ‘God doth give victory to this religion by means of a wicked man’ – a provisional translation and notes”, Baha’i Studies Review 11 (2003) 53–57, at http://www.academia.edu/1496185 .

[13] The Qurán, Chapter 5 (“The Table Spread”), from Verse 54. One is put in mind here of the marvelous passage from the Persian Bayán of the Báb, found in “Selections from the Writings of the Báb”, beginning: “Worship thou God in such wise that if thy worship lead thee to the fire, no alteration in thine adoration would be produced, and so likewise if thy recompense should be paradise. Thus and thus alone should be the worship which befitteth the one True God.”

[14] Alkan, op. cit.

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