Eleven essentials: the Bahai principles as taught by Abdu’l-Baha in London

[This provisional translation was published previously on my Bahai Studies blog ~Sen]

Towards the end of his life, Baha’u’llah wrote a number of works that included numbered lists of his teachings. The Bisharat (Glad Tidings) and Tarazat (Ornaments) are examples. Abdu’l-Baha also wrote several letters that include such numbered lists of essential Bahai teachings, and he sometimes adopted the same format when speaking to gatherings. The records of these in English are often unreliable, but one of these “principles” talks does have authenticated Persian notes (here). It caught my attention because it includes “the separation of religion and politics” as a key principle and also refers to this as “not entering into politics” — a formulation that will be more familiar to Bahais.
The talk was probably addressed to a gathering of Bahais in London on the day of his departure, 3 October 1911, but the Islamic date is given as 11 Shawwal 1329 = 5 October 1911. According to the footnote shown in the inset, “some Persian texts say it was a Theosophical Society meeting in London on December 30, 1911.” This should presumably refer to a Theosophical Society meeting on September 30, 1911. A correspondent has pointed out that this date is confirmed by “the published accounts and records of the London Theosophical Society.” An earlier report of this talk is published in Abdu’l-Baha in London (which incidentally shows that — contrary to earlier understandings — some talks in that book can be authenticated as Bahai scripture). Naturally that report, based on an interpreter’s words, is more compact than the Persian version which I have translated. Its list of principles differs, having the equality of men and women added as an implication of the oneness of humanity, and missing the ninth and tenth principles in the Persian text: that religion is separated from politics and on the education and training of women. A correspondent tells me there is another report in Contemporary Review 1912 which has the same structure as the one in Abdu’l-Baha in London. My translation below is based entirely on the Persian notes referenced above.

He is God
O respected gathering, burning is the essential property of fire, and gleaming is the essential property of the power of lightening, shining is the essential property of the sun, and the essential property of soil is to promote growth. No dislocation is possible in the essential qualities of things. Therefore change and transformation, and transposition and alteration from one condition to another, come from the essential necessities of the contingent world. For example, the succession of seasons, of spring and summer, autumn and winter, and of day and night, flow from the essential qualities of the terrestrial world. Thus every spring is followed by autumn and every summer is followed by a winter, every day by a night, every dawn by an evening.

At a time when the divine religions had entirely decayed and the conduct of the people of the world had altered, when there were no glimmerings of the heavenly light to be seen, and benevolence was a thing of the past, when the darkness of bigotry and contention and slaughter reigned, and the winter with its gloom and cold prevailed, and shadows enveloped the world, Baha’u’llah arose on the horizon of Iran like a star. The lights of resplendent guidance shone out and the heavenly illumination dawned. He promulgated new teachings, reinvigorated the human virtues, revealed heavenly bounties and disclosed the power of spirituality. He brought the following fundamental principles into the world of existence, and promulgated them:

First, the investigation of reality. All religious communities are clinging to blind imitation and therefore are in complete disagreement with one another, and in bitter strife and conflict. However the appearance of reality uncovers this darkness and leads to unity in opinion. For reality admits no multiplicity.

Second, the unity of humanity. That is, all people are recipients of great and glorious favours, they are the servants of one God, they worship one Godhead. Mercy is extended to all, and every head is adorned with the crown of humanity. Therefore all the races and religious communities should consider themselves as brothers and sisters, they should regard themselves as the branches and leaves, the blossoms and fruit, of a single tree. For all of them are the descendants of Adam, all the pearls in one shell. At most, they are in need of education. They are ignorant, they are heedless, so they are should be guided. They are ill, they should be healed; they are children, they should be nurtured in the bosom of love so that they attain to maturity and reason; polishing is required until they are gleaming and luminous.

Third, religion is the foundation of harmony and love, of solidarity and unity. If religion is made the cause of enmity it yields not solidarity but rather troubles, and the absence of religion is better than its existence. The abandonment of religion is preferable to this.

Fourth, religion and learning are twins that cannot be separated, or they are two wings on which you fly. A single wing will not suffice. Any religion that is bereft of learning is to be considered as blind imitation. It is superficial, not spiritual. Therefore the promotion of learning is one of the limbs of religion.

Fifth, religious bigotry, racial prejudice, political partisanship and national bias bring down the edifice of humanity. The reality of the divine religions is one, for reality is one and admits not plurality, and all the prophets are in the utmost unity. The prophets are the mediators of the sun: in every season they rise from a certain point. Therefore each has spoken of his successor, and that successor has confirmed the truth of his predecessor. “No distinction do we make between any of them.” [Quran 2:285]

Sixth, equality between individuals, and perfect fellowship. Justice should be so perfect that the rights of the human race are protected and assured and the rights of the public are equal. This is one of the essential requirements of life in society.

Seventh, the equalisation of the means of livelihood for all humanity, to the extent that all are freed from poverty. Every person should have enough necessities and opportunities to live at ease in a certain honour and position. Although the Emir may be glorious and be surrounded with prosperity, the poor man also should have some daily sustenance. He should not be left in a state of degradation, nor should he be denied the enjoyment of life due to extreme hunger.

Eighth, the universal peace. A supreme tribunal should be formed by all the governments and religious communities, in general elections, and any differences and disputes arising among the governments and peoples should be settled in that tribunal, so that they do not lead to war.

Ninth, religion is separated from politics. Religion does not enter into political matters. In fact, it is linked with the hearts, not with the world of bodies. The leaders of religion should devote themselves to teaching and training the souls and propagating good morals, and they should not enter into political matters.

Tenth, the education and training of women, their progress, and consideration and respect for them, since they are partners and co-equals of men in life and, with respect to their humanity, are on an equal footing.

Eleventh, seeking the bounties of the Holy Spirit, so that spiritual civilization can be established. Material civilization alone is not enough, and does not lead to human happiness. Material civilization is like the body, and spiritual civilization is like the spirit. The body does not live without the spirit. The Quran says, “Truly, We have created the human being in the best of moulds.” [95:4]

These are a selection from the teachings of Baha’u’llah. He demonstrated perseverance and bore trials and afflictions to establish and promulgate them. He was always a prisoner, enduring punishment, heavily burdened, but in the prison he laid the foundations for this sublime mansion. From the darkness of the prison he illumined the horizons with this radiant light. The supreme desire of the Bahais is that these teachings should be put in practice. They strive with heart and soul, willing to sacrifice themselves for this goal, so that heavenly light may illumine the human race.

I am exceedingly pleased to have been able to speak with you in this respected gathering. I hope very much that you will accept my sincere reflections, and breathe a prayer in your hearts that you may be aided to attain to the highest distinction of the human world.

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Sermon at St. John’s Church, Westminister

September 17, 1911: after the evening service at St. John’s Church, Westminster, September 17, 1911.

A provisional translation from Khetabat-e Hazrat-e `Abdu’l-Baha dar safr-e-Europa (Talks of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in his European travels), page 26. Some notes are included in the first comment below this post.

He is God!

The Manifestations of God inform us of the bounties of the unseen world; they are reflections of the sun of reality. The divine reality is sanctified above human understanding. Whatever enters our understanding is a form in the world of imagination: it has a mental rather than a real existence. It is circumscribed. But a human person has a true reality, which encompasses other realities.

The concept of divinity, which is one of our intellectual constructs, is nothing more than an insubstantial concept: it is not the divine reality. The divine reality is encompassing, it is not encompassed; it has a true existence, not an intellectual one. One can understand this question through an analogy. Although the mineral, the vegetable, the animal and the human are all realities of this world, the mineral has no knowledge of the animal kingdom: it cannot picture it, or comprehend it. Similarly, however much a plant may advance, reaching the highest degree of perfection, it knows nothing of the animal world and cannot comprehend it. It knows nothing, having no vision or hearing, and being incapable of understanding and reflection. Again, the animal that has progressed within its own plane, whose senses and susceptibilities have reached their fullest power, still knows nothing about the rational faculty in humans, and cannot imagine it. It is a captive of the senses. It cannot imagine that the sun stands in its place and the earth moves, or that the earth is a sphere. It cannot conceive of the power of electricity, and the ethereal substance does not enter its mind. Although the mineral, vegetable, animal and human are all realities of this world, the difference between their stations prevents the lower from comprehending the higher. In view of this, how could a contingent being comprehend the reality of the Absolute? How could the dust encompass the Lord of Lords? It is clear that this is completely impossible!

The Essence of Divinity, the Sun of Truth, shines forth upon all horizons and is spreading its rays upon all things. Each thing has some portion of that bounty, but the human reality, which combines the perfections of the mineral, the vegetable and animal, and as an additional token of grace, possesses the human perfections, is the noblest of created beings. It encompasses all contingent beings. It uncovers the realities, enigmas and inherent properties of all created things, which had been hidden mysteries and well-guarded secrets. It brings them from the plane of the invisible world into the visible world. Consider the sciences, inventions and discoveries that exist today: each of them was at one time hidden, but the human reality has uncovered them and brought them from the plane of the invisible world into the visible world. For example, magnetic attraction and other hidden forces were once unknown things, concealed in the plane of the invisible, but the human reality uncovered those hidden mysteries and revealed them in the visible world. Thus it is established beyond any doubt that the human reality encompasses all created things and is the noblest created thing.

This is especially true of the perfect exemplar of the human reality. That perfect individual is like a mirror that reflects the sun of reality with the greatest purity, clarity and immediacy. The perfections and light of God are manifest and apparent, in their full splendour, in this stainless mirror. If we say, “the sun is in this mirror,” we do not mean that the sun has come down from its lofty sanctity and alighted in the mirror! It is impossible. The essential nature of any thing cannot be transmuted into something else. The eternal cannot become transient, and the transient is not eternal. Rather, the Immortal Being casts its splendour in this mirror and its heat and light radiate and are revealed and manifest to the greatest degree. “God is Truth: nothing exists beside the Truth except for manifest error.” (From letter 65 of the Nahj al-Balagha, cf Quran 10:32)

O God! Thou giver, and forgiver of sins. This assembly is honoured by Your remembrance and is turning to Your Kingdom. Therefore, our hearts are full of joy and glad tidings. O Thou kind Lord! Cheer us, confirm us in your Kingdom, forgive our sins, and be a refuge for us. Make us aware and call us to Thy Court in the Kingdom. Thou art the Giver, the Generous, the Benevolent. Amen.

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Abdu’l-Baha sends greetings to the Theosophical Society

September 14, 1911: a meeting at the office of the Editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Freemasons and Theosophists, in London
[note 1]

A provisional translation from Khetabat-e Hazrat-e `Abdu’l-Baha dar safr-e-Europa (Talks of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in his European travels), edited by Mahmud-i-Zarqani , page 18.

He is God!

Please give my respectful greetings to the Theosophical Society, and tell them ‘You are in truth promoting the oneness of humanity, for you are free of ignorant prejudices and earnestly desire that all people should be one. Today, whoever promotes the oneness of humanity is acceptable in the eyes of God. All the divinely-inspired prophets strove for this goal, and served humanity. The oneness of humanity is the foundation of the divine teachings. His holiness Moses promoted the oneness of humanity, his holiness Christ established the oneness of humanity, his holiness Muhammad declared the oneness of humanity. The Torah and the gospels and the Qur’an laid the foundations for the oneness of humanity. The Law of God is but one thing, and the Religion of God is one thing: it is loving kindness. His holiness Baha’u’llah has renewed the teachings of the Prophets and proclaimed the foundation of the religion of God, that fellowship may reign between the diverse communities, and the diverging religions may be harmonised. The teachings of Baha’u’llah have had such an effect in the nerves and arteries of humanity that unity has been established between the divergent peoples and kindreds. Since you are working for an admirable cause, I will pray for you and ask God to assist you.’

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Persian-English friendship and a brief history

September 13, 1911: a meeting of the friends at the home of Mrs. Thornburgh-Cropper in London

A provisional translation from Khetabat-e Hazrat-e `Abdu’l-Baha dar safr-e-Europa (Talks of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in his European travels), Vol. 1 page 23, with reference to an earlier publication on page 13 of the Persian section of Star of the West vol. 2 No. 18, Mulk (February 7), 1911, where the talk is dated Thursday, 20 Ramadan 1329, which is September 14.

Some notes have been included in the first comment to this post. The translation is personal and provisional, and comments are welcome.

Welcome! Welcome!

The people of Iran are very pleased that I have come here. My coming here will foster friendship between Britain and Iran, so that ideal bonds are established. The effects will be such that soon some Iranians will be willing to sacrifice their lives for Britain, just as the British sacrifice their lives for Iran. [see Note 1] So they are very happy. That is, I cannot express my satisfaction with the results. I ask God to make these two communities like two brothers. May the bonds between them be so close that they will last forever. Originally the people of Iran and Britain were one. In ancient times they were Aryans, living on the shores of the River … [see note]. They entered Iran and populated it and became very numerous. From there they went to the Caucasus, and they multiplied. They migrated to Europe. These two peoples, the Aryan and the British, are brothers. That is why the English language contains many Persian words, which shows that the two peoples were once one, and now God has provided the means for them to come together, so that the two will return to their original condition. This will certainly happen.

The Bab appeared seventy years ago in Shiraz and announced the good news of the Kingdom of God. He sacrificed his own life in the path of God. He prepared the people for the love of God. Nine years later, the Blessed Beauty (Baha’u’llah) appeared. He proclaimed that God is one, and called the people of all religions to cling to that which is the foundation of the heavenly religions. The foundation of the heavenly religions is one, and the Law of God is one. All the prophets have been raised up to proclaim this. Therefore every religious community that implements God’s counsels attains to the truth. The teachings of God are one and the edifice of the love of God is one. This is the cause of oneness and unity for humanity. The Blessed Beauty suffered many hardships in the path of God. He was in chains in prison, he suffered under the bastinado and the lash, and then he was exiled to Baghdad. However Naser al-Din Shah was not satisfied. The Shah, who ruled as an absolute monarch, did not rest until the Blessed Beauty was sent to Akka where, with the consent of Sultan Abdulhamid II, he was imprisoned. The fortress of Akka is a prison that can hardly be imagined. No prisoner there could survive a year.

The Blessed Beauty devoted his whole life to promoting unity between the hearts of all people, so that they are kind to one another: no more contention and conflict, no more killing and wars. Humanity is one family and every individual is a sign of the decree of unity. Consider what a great bounty the Blessed Beauty has granted; what a bright lamp he has lit! What illumination he has shed on East and West! By the power of the Holy Spirit, he has unfurled the banner of unity. It was for this that he endured such hardships.

Now, thanks be to God, the effects are evident: we are from the East and we are sitting with you, in love, with one spirit and one will. I will pray that he may grant these bounties: that all of you may become loving friends to one another, that he may glorify the honoured nation of Britain and assist this just government.

Some notes have been included in the first comment to this post.

A Heavenly Meeting

September 12, 1911: a meeting of the friends at the home of Mrs. Thornburgh-Cropper in London

A provisional translation from Khetabat-e Hazrat-e `Abdu’l-Baha dar safr-e-Europa (Talks of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in his European travels), page 21

He is God!

Praise be to God, this is a worthy gathering, it is very radiant and spiritual. It is heavenly.
“The heavens in their courses, though beautiful you find them,
are but an imprint left below, of Hea’en that lies behind them.”

Which is to say, whatever exists in Heaven has a reflection in this world of existence. Now, praise be to God, our meeting today is a picture of the Concourse on High, it shines as the sun. From this meeting we can see that the world above is a world of love. The Concourse on High enjoys unity and concord; its purposes are heavenly purposes. Praise be to God, this is a veritable Mount Sinai: it could truly be called a heavenly meeting, for you seek nothing but God’s good-pleasure. All the earth’s people are rushing in pursuit of self and passion. There are some people whose greatest desire it to have wealth and possessions, another group want nothing more than to overcome their enemies. Some seek tranquility and physical ease above all else, while others strive for leadership, and yet others seek fame. Praise be to God, we seek to please God, our pleasure is in God’s oneness. As we are gathered here, our goal is to spread abroad the unity that is born of the heavenly world, to diffuse divine illumination. We are attracting the hearts. Let us give thanks to God, that we have been granted the privilege of serving His great Cause. I pray to God, for all of you, that together you may constitute a heavenly army. Raise high the standard of heavenly unity, illumine East and West, and fill the people’s hearts with the love of God. This my greatest desire, and you desire the same thing. I pray to God that He may grant it. I am very pleased with you, and with the English people and government. You should thank God that you are free. You cannot imagine the chaos of conditions in the East. When someone from the East arrives here, they find it very agreeable. God has blessed you.

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On the oneness of humanity

Sunday, September 10, 1911: at the City Temple, London

A provisional translation from Khetabat-e Hazrat-e `Abdu’l-Baha dar safr-e-Europa (Talks of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in his European travels), page 19

[see note]

He is God,
Distinguished guests, and seekers in the path of God,

Praise be to God, the lights of reality have shone forth, the gentle winds have wafted from the divine rose garden, the call of the Kingdom has been raised in all regions, the breaths of the Holy Spirit have entered our innermost hearts, bestowing everlasting life. In this wonderful age, the East is illumined, the West is fragrant, and those who are spiritually aware can catch the scent of amber. The sea of the unity of the human race is in motion, the banner of the Holy Spirit has been raised. Every fair-minded person will testify that this is a wondrous day, that this era is the era of Almighty God. Soon the earth will be a very paradise. It is the day of the oneness of the sons of men, and the unity of all communities.

The ages of ignorance gave rise to prejudices, which are the foundation of antagonism between the children of Adam. In this day of triumph, God’s bounty is unmistakable. The ensign of the oneness of humanity will fly from the poles of the globe. Disputes and conflicts will be a thing of the past, and the first light of the world’s great peace will dawn. The world will be renewed, and all men will be brothers. All the communities will be as the flags of the All-Glorious. Bloodthirstiness is an attribute of the animal, while peace and righteousness are benefits offered by the human station. His Holiness Baha’u’llah has said “Justice and equity are the life of the world.” Praise be to God, in this country the standard of justice has been raised, and the equality of all has been openly proclaimed. There is tranquillity and well-being, security and happiness. God is one, humanity is one, the foundations of the divine religions are one. Love is the reality of the Godhead. O my friends, strive with all your hearts until the east and west embrace one another like two dear friends.

O God, illumine this gathering, assist these souls. Make their faces to shine, make their inward character the rose garden of the Merciful. Give life to their hearts through the breaths of the Holy Spirit, and bestow the most great guidance, that their souls may become exquisite. Lavish heavenly blessings upon them and make them worthy of Thy bestowals. Given them shelter and protection under Your guardianship and care. Grant them Thy unfailing favours and ordain for them the blessing of perfect fellowship. Thou art the Knowing, the Giver, the bestower of bounties.

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The small house and the path to true happiness

September 9, 1911: home of Alice Buckton in London

A provisional translation from Khetabat-e Hazrat-e `Abdu’l-Baha dar safr-e-Europa(Talks of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in his European travels), page 16.

There was a considerable crowd, and the house was not very large. Mrs. [Thornburgh-]Cropper said “It’s a small house, not sufficient to contain the Friends.” Abdu’l-Baha replied:

This is not a small house – it is the hearts that must be enlarged. When we first arrived in Akka, thirteen of us lived in a single room. What I ask of God, is that He may open the hearts, that He may grant the friends the bounty of enlargement. Hearts can be opened only by the grace of God. If they are opened by some other means, this will in the end prove to be temporary: this enlargement will soon be turned into narrowness. But if enlargement and happiness derives from the love of God, it will be eternal. Every worldly pleasure and happiness looks well when seen from afar, but as one approaches, it proves to be a vapour, an appearance without reality.

If you read The Wisdom of Solomon you will see that Solomon says, “When I was a child, I thought that happiness lay in pre-eminence and much coming and going. When I was in my youth, and I saw that happiness did not lie in amusements, or in pre-eminence, or in the bustle of affairs, I told myself that happiness lay in sovereignty and power and administering a kingdom, but when I ascended the throne I saw that it offered no happiness. And it was the same for every possible station that I expected to have some charm: when I attained it I saw that it offered no pleasure. Then I understood that happiness could be found in God’s loving-kindness.” [see note]

If a man rejoices in companionship, that companionship is transitory, so it is certain that man’s happiness does not lie there. If a man rejoices in wealth, wealth too is transitory. If a man rejoices in high office, there will come a time when it slips from his grasp. Where a cause is transitory, its effects must also be transitory. But if the cause of one’s happiness lies in God’s bounty, that happiness can never end, since the divine bounties are forever. Since God’s loving-kindness is never-ending, if a man commits his heart to God’s grace, and God’s living-kindness enters his heart, his happiness has no end. If one fixes one’s heart on any perishable thing, disappointment is inevitable, but God’s loving-kindness embraces humanity. Give thanks that God has opened the doors of the Kingdom before you, and has called you to love God and promote the unity of the human race. It is as if you had found, in Baha’u’llah, a father whose bounty surrounds you. So you should thank God day and night, that you have been enabled to enjoy such a bounty.

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