Chapter 12   Chapter 14

Chapter Thirteen

Some Divine Characteristics. The Humility Of Servitude. The Station Of True Manhood.

"The life of man is divine, eternal; not mortal and sensual. The sublimity of man is his attainment to the knowledge of God. The happiness of man is in the fragrance of the love of God. This is the highest pinnacle of attainment in the human world."


During the last three days before Abdu'l-Bahá left this country I haunted His presence. Those early December days brought a chill to my heart as well as to my body. Although, even then, I had not arrived at the point where I could say from my heart that I accepted the fundamental Bahá'í teachings relative to the divine station of Bahá'u'lláh and His place in the long line of prophetic Revelators, yet there could be no doubt in my mind of the station of Abdu'l-Bahá.

What mattered if the station I ascribed was not in terms exactly parallel to those used by the friends around Him. It sufficed me that I saw in Him the perfect man, and that I would gladly have sacrificed all that I had, or ever could have, to approach that perfectness.

It was not simply that He had never failed me in a response to the circumstances and conditions of daily life which left nothing to be desired from the standpoint of wisdom, humility, courage, gentleness and courtesy. If that were all it would mean that I was assuming to my own judgment an expert dogmatism. Who was I to determine whether He were wise or not? Could I, in my ignorance, know anything about it? Could I judge, to any appreciable degree, His station except to compare Him with myself and any others I had ever known? From that viewpoint there could be no doubt. Incomparably was He superior. He stood out from mankind as a Mont Blanc upon a plain.

But there was something else which those who have carefully read this chronicle must have marked, but which elusively evades descriptive words. Yet must one try, for it is this very elusive something which does much to explain His power.

One of these fascinating and provocative characteristics was His ready laughter when alluding to subjects usually approached with extreme gravity. For instance: On the last day in New York I had my final personal interview with Him. I was saying good-bye and my heart was sad. Haltingly, I expressed this sorrow that He was leaving the country and that, in all probability, I should never see Him again. We were standing. It was actually the last good-bye. Abdu'l-Bahá laid His arm across my shoulders and walked with me to the door, saying that I should be with Him in all the worlds of God. And then He laughed--a hearty, ringing laugh--and I: my eyes blinded with tears.--"Why does He laugh?" I thought. Nevertheless, these words, and even more, the tone in which they were uttered, and His joyous laughter, have been an illuminating light upon my path through all these years.

Another characteristic always apparent was His silence. In the world of social and intellectual intercourse to which I was accustomed silence was almost unforgivable. From the collegiate with his, or her, "line," to the lawyer, doctor, minister, statesman--a ready answer, a witty bon mot, a wise remark, a knowing smile was stock-in-trade. They all had their "line," and it was upon their readiness or unreadiness to meet every occasion verbally that their reputation largely rested.

How differently Abdu'l-Bahá met the questioner, the conversationalist, the occasion: To the questioner He responded first with silence--an outward silence. His encouragement always was that the other should speak and He listen. There was never that eager tenseness, that restlessness so often met showing most plainly that the listener has the pat answer ready the moment he should have a chance to utter it.

I have heard certain people described as "good listeners," but never had I imagined such a "listener" as `Abdul'-Bahá. It was more than a sympathetic absorption of what the ear received. It was as though the two individualities became one; as if He so closely identified Himself with the one speaking that a merging of spirits occurred which made a verbal response almost unnecessary, superfluous. As I write, the words of Bahá'u'lláh recur to me: "When the sincere servant calls to Me in prayer I become the very ear with which He heareth My reply."[56]

That was just it! Abdu'l-Bahá seemed to listen with my ears.

You see what I mean by saying that I am trying to describe the indescribable. All this may sound to the reader as quite fantastic. Others may not have received this impression in their contacts with Him, but this invariable characteristic of Abdu'l-Bahá is one of my most vivid remembrances and has been the subject of much meditation.

And when, under His encouraging sympathy, the interviewer became emptied of his words, there followed a brief interval of silence. There was no instant and complete outpouring of explanation and advice. He sometimes closed His eyes a moment as if He sought guidance from above himself; sometimes sat and searched the questioner's soul with a loving, comprehending smile that melted the heart.

And when He finally spoke, and that modulated, resonant voice of music came, the words were so unexpected, often, so seemingly foreign to the subject, that the questioner was at first somewhat bewildered, but always, with me at least, this was followed by a calmness, an understanding which went much deeper than the mind.

Still another characteristic from the many which crowd the memory:--His penetrating insight into the very heart of every subject under discussion. Sometimes this was shown by a story in which wit and wisdom were so inextricably mingled that one was often at a loss to know whether he should laugh, or weep, or stand in awe.

When He was at Lake Mohonk, where He spoke to the members of the Inter-National Peace Conference, Abdu'l-Bahá was walking with a group of the friends one morning when they came upon a party of young people.

After a few words of greeting He said: that He would tell them an oriental story: Once the rats and mice held an important conference the subject of which was how to make peace with the cat. After a long and heated discussion it was decided that the best thing to do would be to tie a bell around the neck of the cat so that the rats and mice would be warned of his movements and have time to get out of his way.

This seemed an excellent plan until the question arose as to who should undertake the dangerous job of belling the cat. None of the rats liked the idea and the mice thought they were altogether too weak. So the conference broke up in confusion.

Everyone laughed, Abdu'l-Bahá with them. After a short pause He added that that is much like these Peace Conferences. Many words, but no one is likely to approach the question of who will bell the Czar of Russia, the Emperor of Germany, the President of France and the Emperor of Japan.

Faces were now more grave. Abdu'l-Bahá laughed again: There is a Divine Club, He said, which shall break their power in pieces.

In the light of world events during the twenty-five years since Abdu'l-Bahá told that story to a youthful, happy group fresh from listening to the eloquent appeals for world peace voiced by well-meaning but impotent ones; the distractedly weak discussing how to bell the war-cat. His keen penetration into the very heart of the difficulty, and His laughing summing up of the situation in a little ancient fable, the characteristic of which I spoke is demonstrated but only to a slight degree.

Two years later the world war broke. Some of those very youngsters who laughed with Him so lightheartedly doubtless left their bodies in Flanders; the German war-lord fled his empire, his dreams become a nightmare; the torrent flooding the world carried thrones to ruin like disintegrating dwellings in a spring freshet. The Divine Club, indeed!

On one of these final days, while waiting for the friends to gather, I was talking with one of the Persian friends, Mahmud, while the Master was busied with a small group nearby. As ever, my mind was preoccupied with watching Him. His gestures. His smile. His radiant personality were a constant fascination.

"May I ask," Mahmud was saying, "whether you speak from your pulpit about the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh at all?" "Yes," I answered, "not as often as I might wish, but I quote frequently from the Writings in illustration of my subject."

"When you quote do you mention the Author?"

"Certainly," I said, in some surprise, "I naturally give my authority."

He said, "It must require some courage, does that not arouse criticism?"

"I had not thought of the matter in that light. Why should it require courage to speak of truth without regard to its source? We are not living in the middle ages."

Mahmud stepped over to where Abdu'l-Bahá was sitting and said a few words in Persian to Him. The Master smiled over at me with that indescribably penetrating glance of which I have often spoken. He remarked that it took a great deal of courage.

This was on the afternoon of Dec. 3rd in the Park Avenue home of a woman whose life for years had been dedicated to service in spite of the, at times, somewhat violent opposition of her influential husband, who had even gone so far as to have her examined by alienists, but who, some years later, became a devoted adherent to the cause of Bahá'u'lláh. The large drawing room was filled when the Master spoke to us. The words were few but pregnant, dealing again with those qualities which must characterize the believers.

"I offer supplication to the Kingdom of Abhá and seek extraordinary blessings and confirmations on your behalf in order that your tongues may become fluent, your hearts like clear mirrors flooded with the rays of the Sun of Truth, your thoughts expanded, your comprehensions more vivid and that you may progress in the plane of human perfections.

"Until man acquires perfections himself he will not be able to teach perfections to others. Unless man attains life himself he cannot convey life to others. Unless he finds light he cannot reflect light. We must therefore endeavor ourselves to attain to the perfections of the world of humanity, lay hold of everlasting life and seek the divine spirit in order that we may thereby be enabled to confer life upon others, be enabled to breathe life into others."[57]

As these words are written we recall a conversation with one of the editors of a well-known and "influential" Christian magazine. He has written and lectured much on world conditions and is an eloquent disciple of the cause of international peace. In this interview, which I had sought because of one of his books lately read, I mentioned the Bahá'í House of Worship whose impressive dome was almost within sight of where we sac. Instantly his demeanor changed.

"If you are speaking of Bahá'ísm," he said, "I have nothing more to say."

"Have you investigated its teachings?" I asked, much surprised at this strange attitude.

"No, I haven't and I have no desire to do so," he answered. And without waiting for a reply, he continued:

"That may be prejudice, and I am frank to admit that I am prejudiced."

"How can we ever attain to world peace unless we are freed from prejudice?" I said, rising to take my leave, for the interview was plainly at an end, "surely we can free ourselves from that incubus."

"Never," he said, smilingly but with great vigor, "never can we be free from prejudice: it is ineradicable in human nature."

I speak of this incident, unimportant in itself, to illustrate the unanswerable wisdom of Abdu'l-Bahá's words just quoted. He is not holding before us an unattainable or indefinite ideal. He is pointing out a simple and demonstrable fact. And in the light of that fact we see at once why so little real progress is made towards universal peace and unity in religion by the wordy adherents of these ideals. How plainly does prejudice, self-interest and narrow vision underlie their words! How can the hearts clouded by such mists reflect the Sun of Truth? How can they breathe life into others when there is no sincere, self-sacrificing desire on their pan to acquire life?

On the evening of the same day Abdu'l-Bahá spoke briefly again to a group of Bahá'í friends of the subject which, on these last days seemed very close to His heart and lips--the station to which those who had accepted the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh were called and expected to attain by the very fact that they had accepted them.

I remember, in this connection, a story told me by one of the friends present at a meeting of the executive committee of the New York Spiritual Assembly. Abdu'l-Bahá had been asked to be present. After listening to their deliberations for a half-hour or so He calmly arose to leave.

At the door He paused a moment and surveyed the faces turned towards Him. After a moment of silence He said, that He had been told that this was a meeting of the executive committee. "Yes, Master," said the Chairman.

Then why do you not execute.

Always was His emphasis upon deeds: and deeds of such quality and purity as seemed, to those who listened, unattainable. Nevertheless there was no lowering of the standard. And He set the example. There was no doubt of that. Like the true Leader He never called upon His followers to go where He had not blazed the Path.

I have proclaimed unto you the glad tidings of the Kingdom of God and explained the wishes of the Blessed Perfection. I have set forth that which is conducive to human progress and shown you the humility of servitude.[58]

I have selected these latter words for emphasis because they indicate what seems to me to be the very heart of Abdu'l-Bahá's teachings.

First: His invariable example. Second: His "humility of servitude." This spirit of servitude was His distinguishing characteristic. The very title given Him by Bahá'u'lláh, Abdu'l-Bahá, and by which He wished always to be known and addressed, "The Servant of Glory," was indicative of the essential nature of this quality as it related to the Bahá'í teaching. He was once asked to act as honorary chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly. "Abdu'l-Bahá is a servant," He responded simply.

"I am Abdu'l-Bahá and no more. I am not pleased with whosoever praises me by any other tide. I am the servant of the Blessed Perfection, and I hope that this Servitude of mine will become acceptable. Whosoever mentions any other name save this will not please me at all. Abdu'l-Bahá and no more. No person must praise me except by this name: "Abdu'l-Bahá."

And again: "The mystery of mysteries of these words, texts and lines, is servitude to the Holy Presence of the Beauty of `Abhá, and effacement, evanescence and perfect dispersion before the Blessed Threshold. This is my brilliant diadem and my glorious crown. With this I will be glorified in the heavenly kingdom and the kingdom of this world. And with it I will approach unto the Beauty among the nearest ones to God, and no one is allowed to interpret other than this."

Abdu'l-Bahá says that the "conditions of existence are limited to servitude, Prophethood and Deity."[59] That is to say: since man is incapable of attainment either to the station of the Divine Essence or of Prophethood (except in those unique instances of the anointed Ones, which occur, roughly speaking about every thousand years) the only possible station to which he may aspire is that of servitude.

In spite of the fact that Jesus proclaimed much the same truth this is practically an entirely new conception, originating with the teaching of Bahá'u'lláh and exemplified in every deed and word of His majestic Son.

It is important, then, that this word and its implications be examined. What does Abdu'l-Bahá mean by Servitude? What possible ground can he have for asserting, as He does by implication, that unless man in this day attains that station he forfeits the right to be called man at all?

When Jesus said: "He that would be greatest among you let him be the servant of all:" "The meek shall inherit the earth." And when He washed His disciple's feet--what did He mean? What was He trying to convey?

Exactly what Abdu'l-Bahá means when He made the statements I have quoted above. And it is very simple and demonstrable truth.

Bahá'u'lláh says:

"The station of man is high. This is a great and blessed Day, and that which has been hidden in man is and shall be disclosed. The station of man is great if he holds to Reality and Truth, and if he be firm and steadfast in the Commands. The true man appeareth before the Merciful One like unto the heavens; his sight and hearing are the sun and moon; his bright and shining qualities are the stars; his station is the highest one; his traces are the educators of existence." [60]

And again He says: "Man is not to be called man until he be imbued with the attributes of the Merciful."[61]

Now, as though a wide window opened to a breeze from the world of explanation and understanding, Abdu'l-Bahá's glorification of the station of Servitude becomes clear, or at least clearer than was possible without this new, yet eternally old, definition of Man. For Servitude, to Abdu'l-Bahá, was--is--the Path, the only possible Path to that Greatness. And this, I believe, is just the greatness to which Jesus referred, the greatness of true Manhood. One of the distinguishing marks of the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh is His practical explanation of Jesus' Words and the inclusion of their obedience in His theophany.

"The humility of servitude" to Abdu'l-Bahá was His "Brilliant diadem and glorious crown." Why? Certainly not because He wished to be honored and glorified above others. That would be far from humility. No! Only because He thus, and thus only, could show others the Path to Greatness.

Speaking broadly, there are three possible basic relations between men: Strife, Cooperation and Service. Whether these relations are demonstrated in the fields of home life; commerce; education; government, or anywhere else, these three motivating impulses may be seen. Usually all three of them are present, each striving for supremacy, though often quite unconsciously. Sometimes only one or two are active.

Take the average home life for example. There we find, let us say, a father, a mother, three or four children and a housemaid. There is strife always to be found, even in the most idealistic home. Not an outward strife always, though differences do often arise, but always an inner commotion due to the necessary effort towards unity. Then, of course there is cooperation for this is the basis of any family life, without which it would disintegrate rapidly. Finally we see service typified by the housemaid, but active in every member in varying degrees.

Let us imagine that rare article: a perfect maidservant, a purely hypothetical character, admittedly, but admirable for the purpose of illustration. She is efficient, cooks the most delectable dishes; she is good natured, always cheerful and happy; she is obedient, never asserts herself, never contradicts; she is wise with a homely common sense which penetrates to the heart of a problem, whether it relates to the "master's" fondness for coffee of a certain strength, the "mistress'" liking for breakfast in bed combined with an early engagement at a committee meeting, or little Johnnie's embarrassment over a raid on the pantry resulting in tummy-agony which must be hidden from mother. This wisdom may even be so far embracing that it involves a study of the current news and market reports so that father and mother unconsciously talk things over with her when a club paper is to be prepared or a large purchase made.

I have sometimes amused myself with picturing the daily life of such a family. Is there any question which one of its members would be the ruling power? Which the greatest, the most indispensable one of its members? Can one not imagine the consternation in that household if "Bridget" or "Mary" should announce a severing of connection?

Take another illustration: A corner grocery which has for its motto--and lives up to it every instant--"Service First." Service before profit; service before clockwatching; service before any personal consideration whatever. After all, preposterous as such an hypothetical grocery store may be, that is just what a food store should be. Does not the comfort, even in isolated cases perhaps, the very life of the community it serves depend upon it? If the desire for profit overbalances, the result is debased and unhealthy food. The law has stringent penalties for such infraction, but such laws would be unnecessary if the spirit of true service ruled. But our imaginary--our utterly preposterous ideal store IS ruled by that spirit No self-sacrifice is too great for its owner and employees to insure that perfect service is rendered with its only objective the health, happiness and welfare of its community.

Can one not easily picture the inevitable result? That store would be the Ruler of that community. Its fame would spread over the land; its business would prosper beyond any imaginings; its owner and managers might be consulted by statesmen. It would be GREAT.

But let us allow our imaginations further rioting. Let us suppose that in addition to this spirit of service the proprietor was possessed of a wisdom and love based upon the Sermon on the Mount. The mere suggestion of such a possibility is sufficient. Such a man would come to be possessed of a Power rivaling and surpassing that of a king.

If the reader is not by this time so bored by this fantastic picture that he throws the book down in disgust, let him in imagination apply this principle to the field of education, in which teachers, students, principals, et al, are motivated by a like spirit; to the field of general commerce; of government, of international relations. Would not the happiness, prosperity, efficiency and general welfare of the race be immeasurably advanced?

But the important thing to observe is that this picture involves the appearance on this planet of a type of man quite new in world experience. But let it be also noted that while such a man is new in actual experience he is not new in the picturings of such men as Confucius, Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Such men have always held these ideals before mankind. But in the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, and in the life and example of Abdu'l-Bahá, these ideals are for the first time brought to the forefront and made the basis of a New World Order.

Man is called today to the attainment of that station to which he was destined from the "Beginning which has no beginning." In the very Words of Bahá'u'lláh: "We have created whomsoever is in the heaven and upon the earth after the nature of God. And he who advanceth to this Face (His Revelation) will appear in the condition wherein he was created."[62]

This, then, is why Abdu'l-Bahá so exalted the station of Servitude. This is why He intimated that man accepting any station lower than this, any putting of self before service to others, qualifies himself as of the animal, the bestial nature, and places himself outside the pale of real manhood. It is because the definition of Man is altered. That which has been hinted in the past as a possible goal is now a requisite. Man's dreams, his highest dreams, must now be realized. And the path to that realization is the path of Service; its Goal the attainment to the station of pure Servitude.

"The sweetness of servitude is the food of my spirit." These words of the Master indicates the source of His power. His was a vastly higher quality of service than even that of my fanciful imagination in the hypothetical cases mentioned above. It went far deeper; it rose to far greater heights. It was a quality inherent in His deepest being, and manifested itself in every look, gesture, deed, I had almost said in every breath He drew. The following prayer unequivocally expresses the divine station ascribed in His heart to this quality of Servitude. Can any one reading it, with eyes from which the veil of self has fallen, fail to glimpse the glory to which manhood may rise when once the Truth it hides from our blind, self-clouded eyes is clearly seen?

He is the All-Glorious!

O God, my God! Lowly and tearful, I raise my suppliant hands to Thee and cover my face in the dust of that Threshold of Thine, exalted above the knowledge of the learned, and the praise of all that glorify Thee. Graciously look upon Thy servant, humble and lowly at Thy door, with the glances of the eye of Thy mercy, and immerse him in the Ocean of Thine eternal grace.

Lord! He is a poor and lowly servant of Thine, enthralled and imploring Thee, captive in Thy hand, praying fervently to Thee, trusting in Thee, in tears before Thy face, calling to Thee and beseeching Thee, saying:

O Lord, my God! Give me Thy grace to serve Thy loved ones, strengthen me in my servitude to Thee, illumine my brow with the light of adoration in Thy court of holiness, and of prayer to Thy Kingdom of grandeur. Help me to be selfless at the heavenly entrance of Thy gate, and aid me to be detached from all things within Thy holy precincts. Lord! Give me to drink from the chalice of selflessness; with its robe clothe me, and in its ocean immerse me. Make me as dust in the pathway of Thy loved ones, and grant that I may offer up my soul for the earth ennobled by the footsteps of Thy chosen ones in Thy path, O Lord of Glory in the Highest.

With this prayer doth Thy servant call Thee, at dawntide and in the night-season. Fulfill his heart's desire, O Lord! Illumine his heart, gladden his bosom, kindle his light, that he may serve Thy Cause and Thy servants.

Thou art the Bestower, the Pitiful, the Most Bountiful, the Gracious, the Merciful, the Compassionate.[63]

Chapter 12   Chapter 14

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