Chapter 7   Chapter 9

Chapter Eight

In Dublin, N. H. With Abdul-BaháThe Most Perfect Gentleman I Have Ever Known. The Master Teacher. The Spiritual Warrior. A Fable. It Behooves You To Manifest Light. The Gift. The First Tablet.

"We have come here for work and Service, not for enjoyment of air and scenery."

Abdu'l-Bahá in Dublin, N. H.

In August of that year in which a New World opened, an invitation came to me to be the guest of Abdu'l-Bahá in Dublin, N. H.

One of the Washington friends, at whose home in that city Abdu'l-Bahá had visited and spoken several times, had offered Him the use of a large farmhouse on her lovely estate in Dublin. As this house, however, was pretty well filled with the large party of Persian and American friends who accompanied Him, He had taken a room in the Dublin Inn and it was there He entertained me, over the week-end of August 9, 1912.

Dublin is a beautiful mountain summer resort where gathers each year a colony of wealthy intellectuals from Washington, D. C. and from various large centers. Abdu'l-Bahá's stay in that place for a period of three weeks offers another evidence of His unique power of adaptation to every environment; His dominant humility in every group, which, while seeming to follow He really led, and His manifest all-embracing knowledge.

Picture, if you can, this Oriental, fresh from more than fifty years of exile and prison life, suddenly placed in an environment representing the proudest culture of the Western world. Nothing in His life, one would reasonably presume, had offered a preparation for such a contact.

Not to His youth had been given years of academic and scholastic training. Not to His young manhood had been supplied those subtle associations during His formative years. Not upon His advancing age had been bestowed the comforts and leisure which invite the mind's expanse.

Quite the contrary, as I have endeavored to portray, His life had been a constant submission to every form of hardship and deprivation, when considered from a material standpoint alone. Dungeons and chains had been His lot. Torture not seldom; confinement in the stocks, or any indignity which heartless jailers might design, His portion. The Bible and the Koran His only books.

How, then, can it be explained that in this environment He not only mingled with these highest products of wealth and culture with no slightest embarrassment to them or to Him, but He literally outshone them in their chosen field.

No matter what subject was brought up He was perfectly at home in its discussion, yet always with an undercurrent of modesty and loving consideration for the opinions of others. I have before spoken of His unfailing courtesy. It was really more than what that term usually connotes to the Western mind. The same Persian word is used for both reverence and courtesy. He "saw the Face of His Heavenly Father in every face" and reverenced the soul behind it. How could one be discourteous if such an attitude was held towards everyone!

The husband of Abdu'l-Bahá's hostess in Dublin, who, while never becoming an avowed believer, had many opportunities of meeting and talking with the Master, when asked to sum up his impressions of Him, responded, after a little consideration: "I think He is the most perfect gentleman I have ever known."

Consider. This was the verdict of a man of inherited wealth; of wide and profound culture; accustomed to judge men by delicate standards, and to whom the word `gentleman' connoted all which he held most admirable. And the term was applied by him to a man who, it is not improbable, had never in His long life of imprisonment ever heard the word as relating to him.

One may, perhaps, get a glimpse, if he considers deeply this rather portentous fact of what Bahá'u'lláh means when He says: "The root of all knowledge is the knowledge of God." And again: "Knowledge is one point: the ignorant have multiplied it." It may be true, as He has many times reiterated, that the only true Life is that of the spirit, and that when one lives and moves and thinks constantly upon the spiritual plane, all things, both great and small, are done with perfect ness.

Certainly, in my many contacts with this Master of Life, I never knew Him to fail in manifesting the highest qualities of conduct, whether in the realm of material action or in intellectual or spiritual teaching.

I remember a luncheon party in Dublin, to which came a number of these summer residents to meet Abdu'l-Bahá. There were present a famous scientist, two well-known artists, a physician of note, and all of the fifteen or twenty people present had a background of more than one generation of wealth or culture. Could it be possible to imagine a more glaring contrast with the life Abdu'l-Bahá had lived?

The hostess, who had visited the Master in `Akká while he was still a prisoner there, and whose life had become transformed through her spiritual contact with Him, has spoken to me of this gathering several times. Naturally, she was somewhat concerned that her friends whom she had known for years in the social life of Washington, Baltimore and New York, should know the Master, to a degree at least, as she had known Him, but there was trepidation in her soul. For these men and women were not of a religious trend of thought. In fact several of them were frankly agnostic, and all were uninterested in that phase of life.

She wanted her party to be a success, of course, but more she wished these friends to get a glimpse, if only a glimpse, of that World of Reality into which Abdu'l-Bahá had ushered her. She wondered, she has told me, how Abdu'l-Bahá would handle the situation, for she knew that she would not have the responsibility for its handling. Abdu'l-Bahá was always the Host, His the dominating voice.

I was present at that gathering, but little of its true significance penetrated my consciousness. I have but the memory of a typical luncheon party where had gathered a group of society's intelligentsia to meet a noteworthy personality.

It is a perpetual wonder to me, as I recall to memory those months, during which, all unrecognized by me, the portals to spiritual freedom were slowly swinging wide, how little I understood what was really happening. I see now what a tremendous task it is to open the eyes of the blind. No wonder our Lord Christ marveled that those to whom He spake and upon whom He smiled, having eyes and ears and hearts, saw not, nor heard nor understood. No wonder that tradition has handed down to us the confusion of thought which must have afflicted those to whom came the revelations of the miracle of bestowed spiritual sight. To them, and even to us, too often physical sight was the great blessing; the loss of it the great tragedy; its restoration the great miracle. But to Jesus, and to all true Seers, physical sight is blindness compared to the Sight of the Spirit. Abdu'l-Bahá calls it seeing by "The Light Divine" and says:

"Seek with all your hearts for this Heavenly Light, so that you may be able to understand the Realities, that you may know the secret things of God, that the hidden ways may be made plain before your eyes. By the help of this effulgent Light all the spiritual interpretations of the Holy Writings have been made plain, the hidden things of God's universe have become manifest, and we have been able to comprehend the Divine purposes for man."[20]

Truly a miracle of miracles it is that earth-blinded eyes ever open to the World of Reality.

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 to them 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 through the room. He said that 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 would roll 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.

That was the nearest approach He came to any reference to Himself or to the Divine Teachings. But over that group before the gathering dispersed, hovered a hush and reverence which no learned dissertation would have caused in them.

After the guests had gone, and Abdu'l-Bahá was leaving for His hotel, He came close to His hostess and asked her, with a little wistful smile, almost, she was used to say, like a child seeking approbation, if she were pleased with Him.

She was never able to speak of this conclusion to the event without deep emotion.

Abdu'l-Bahá was to speak in the Unitarian church that Sunday morning, but He had intimated that He would talk with me before the time for the service, so, about half-past-nine I was awaiting Him in one of the spacious private parlors of the Inn.

The events of that day are among my clearest remembrances connected with the Master. At that time, about four months after my first meeting with Him, and seven months after first hearing of this worldwide movement, I was still, it seemed, almost as far away as ever from any true understanding of what it was all about. I was perpetually tossing in the turbulent Sea of Spirit: at brief moments caught in the up-thrust of that surging ocean of Truth, and for an instant dazzled by the Light of the Sun of Reality. But only for a moment; then dropped again into the trough of the sea and shut from that Light. Each time the illumination came I clung to it and said within my heart: "This time I will not let Thee go." And each time, when the darkness closed around, my agonized heart averred: "The Light is gone forever. It was but a dream born of vain hopes."

I have before spoken of this inward turmoil. I speak of it again trusting that other struggling souls may find in the analysis of my experience a suggestion for a similar analysis of their own. For this servant is fully assured that every aspiring soul must fight over much the same ground. And the fight is never over, "There is no surcease in this War." For every battle won opens a wider field of combat against the never-sleeping foe of Self and the contingent[21] world.

I often, in those days of early recognition of this fact, likened this warfare to the great war of nations even then rumbling in the Balkans. For, just as the soldier, when the zero hour strikes, plunges over his breastwork, and, through hail of shot and shell, dashes against the enemy, and, having gained what ground he can, digs in and sticks, never retreating, never abandoning ground once gained; so the spiritual warrior fortifies each step, each yard of ground, never looking back. Also he never forgets that far ahead lies the enemy's chief stronghold, his base of supplies, his capital city, the city of self and desire, attachment to this world, Not until that stronghold is completely overthrown, and the "strongly fortified fortress" of God's Will and His Desire attained, can any permanent and honorable Peace be secured. And again he never forgets that there is a Commander in Chief directing the War, and that the "Hosts of the Supreme Concourse" are assisting him. Hence he knows that final victory is assured.

During those early and terrible days of this fighting I was at times tempted to retreat. It was not easy to face the supercilious comments of my ministerial associates; the adverse criticisms of my family and friends; the cooling good-will of the influential members of my congregation. One of my clergymen associates asked me one day: "Are you still Bahá'-ing around?" While a member of my own family told me I was a pathological case, and needed a physician.

Why I did not retreat I cannot tell. Partly, I suppose, it was because I did not realize whither the Path was leading. If all that the following five or seven years were to hold, if I advanced, had been revealed to me at that time, I greatly doubt if my courage would have sufficed to brave them.

On the other hand, the glimpses I had at times of the very Glory of God; the possibilities of human attainment for the first time revealed; the happiness unspeakable that, if only for brief moments, swept over me, repaid for all the ground abandoned. I was "in the Grip of God." When in the depths, and darkness again closed around, it was so unbearable that I, perforce, must find the Light again. I could not have retreated had I wished.

Some time later, to aid a friend in the throes of a similar struggle I concocted a little fable illustrating this.

Once on a rime a traveler was lost in a dense wilderness.

It seemed that for endless ages he had wandered forlorn.

No path there was; no sun by which to get his bearings.

The briers tore his flesh, the pitiless wind and rain poured down their wrath. He had no home.

Then suddenly, when hope was gone, he came out upon a mountainside overlooking a lovely valley, in which was set a heavenly palace, the very Home of his dreams.

With joy unspeakable he rushed to enter.

But hardly had his foot stepped within its precincts when a heavy hand grasped him by the neck and--back he was again in that dread wilderness.

But now he was not without hope. He had seen his home.

And with a courage unknown before he set upon his search.

He was more careful now. He watched for signs of the Path.

And strove to pierce the overhanging gloom for gleams of light.

And, after weary search, again he saw his home.

He was more careful now. He did not rush to enter.

He noted how it lay. He oriented by the sun.

And softly his reverent feet bore him within.

But, alas, again the heavy hand tore him from that loved home and back again he was in that vast wilderness.

But now his heart was not at all cast down.

He had his bearings! And with great joy set upon his search again.

And now he marked the trees so he could find the path again.

The sky grew clearer overhead and gleams of sun assisted.

And soon, much sooner than before, he found his home again, and entered.

This time he felt more calm and assured.

This time he felt no fear of grasping hand.

And when it came and grasped, and he was back in that foul wilderness of worldly things,

He hastened with sure feet upon his search.

The Sun shone brightly now. The songs of birds entranced his ear.

And now he beat a Path. He tore away the impeding underbrush.

For well he knew that he would often have to tread his way back and forth, while in this world.

But he had found his home, and when the roar of men confused,

And darkness came, he hastened back from self to God.

That Sunday with Abdu'l-Bahá in Dublin was one of my days of Light. He came into the room where I awaited Him and embraced me, asking if I were well and happy. We must always be happy. He said, for it is impossible to live in the Spiritual World and be sad. God desires happiness for all His creatures. For man especially is this joy ordained for he has the capacity to understand Reality. The world of the spirit is open to him as it is not to the kingdoms of Nature below him. It is through the power of this spirit-energy that he is able to conquer Nature and bend its forces to his will. God has sent His Messengers all through the ages to aid men in this conquest. I cannot recall the exact words, of course, but His point of view and the atmosphere of Truth created is indelibly impressed upon my consciousness.

It was during this conversation that I asked Him again, as I often had, why I should believe in Bahá'u'lláh as the latest and most universal of these Messengers.

He looked at me long and searchingly. His smile broadened. Again He seemed to be enjoying a heavenly situation which was not without its humorous side. Then He was lovingly grave again. After a somewhat lengthy silence He said that it was not given to everyone to speak often of His Holiness Christ to men. He said that I must thank God daily for this great bounty, for men have entirely forgotten the pure teachings of this "Essence of Severance." He remarked that His Holiness Bahá'u'lláh speaks of this in the Book of Certitude and that I should study it carefully. In that book is explained how these stars of the Heaven of Christ's Revelation have fallen to the earth of worldly desires. On their tongues the mention of God has often become an empty Name; in their midst His Holy Word a dead letter. This condition is that to which Christ refers. He said, when He speaks of "the oppression or affliction of the Last Days." What greater affliction could be imagined than that under which the self-appointed spiritual leaders are themselves in darkness.[22]

Praise be to God that you are seeking Light. It behooves you to manifest Light; to express in word and deed the pure teachings of His Holiness the Christ. To the proud we must be humble; He said, to the humble, compassionate; to the ignorant ones be as a student before his master; to the sinful ones be as the greatest sinner of all. To the poor be a benefactor; to the orphan, a father; to the aged, a son. Take guidance, not from leaders of sectarian theology but from the Sermon on the Mount. Seek no earthly reward, nay, rather, accept calamities in His service as His first disciples did.[23]

He smiled at me with such heavenly radiance that I sat enthralled and overcome with an emotion indescribable. Then he fell silent and His eyes closed. I thought He was weary, as doubtless He was for His constant activity gave Him little rest. But it was plain to me later that He must have been praying for me.

I, too, was still. How could I speak! I was in a World far removed from my habitual consciousness. It even, for those blissful moments, seemed possible to do as He commanded. Certainly I knew that that was what I should do, and for the first time a glimmer of the conviction came to me that I could never rest until I should approach this station to which He called me, if not in this world then in some other.

He opened His eyes after a while, smiled again, and said that all who truly seek find; that the door to the World of Reality was never closed to those who patiently knock. This is the Day of attainment.

The very atmosphere of that conventional hotel room seemed impregnated with the Holy Spirit. We sat in silence for some time and then a message came that it was time to go to the church. He embraced me again and left me. For a little while I sat alone trying to adjust myself again to my surroundings, for I had truly been transported to another world.

Then some friends came to ask me to accompany them to the church to hear the Master's talk.

What His subject was I do not recall, nor does a single word of His address remain with me. My memory is all of the quiet New England church; the crowded pews, and Abdu'l-Bahá on the platform. His cream-colored robe; His white hair and beard; His radiant smile and courteous demeanor. And His gestures! Never a dogmatic downward stroke of the hand; never an upraised warning finger; never the assumption of teacher to the taught. But always the encouraging upward swing of hands, as though He would actually lift us up with them. And His voice! Like a resonant bell of finest timbre; never loud but of such penetrating quality that the walls of the room seemed to vibrate with its music.

I do remember, however, that what He said impressed me with the force of the impact of Divine Truth. There was not a question in my mind of the authority with which He spake. Truly, not as the scribes!

I recall that as I left the church and joined some of the New York friends who were among the audience, I said to one of them:

"At last I know. Never again will I doubt or question."

Alas, I spoke too soon. Many months too soon. My scholastic training had gone too deep. The habits of a lifetime of depending upon book learning, which, as Bahá'u'lláh says, has: "Like a gloomy dust enveloped the world,"[24] were not to be so quickly broken.

That evening I felt that I must speak to Abdu'l-Bahá once more. My heart was too full of thankfulness to let me rest without the effort to express it to Him. So I watched for Him to come back to the Inn after His day was ended. It was quite late when at last I saw Him slowly ascending the stairs to His room.

I can hardly believe now that I had the temerity to follow. He had entered the room when I reached it, and had closed the door. What gave me courage to knock I do not know; but knock I did, and He opened the door Himself. I did not know what to say. He beckoned me in and looked at me gravely. I stammered: "Will you please pray with me?"

He motioned, and I knelt while He put His hands upon my head and chanted, in Persian, a brief prayer. It was all over within three minutes. But those moments brought to me a peace I had never known.

Before I leave the recital of the Dublin experience I will relate an incident to which I was not a witness but was told me by one who saw it. It seems that she was occupying a room in the Inn at the same time that Abdu'l-Bahá was there. She was dressing and happening to glance out of the window she saw Abdu'l-Bahá pacing up and down dictating to His secretary. An old man, wretchedly clothed, passed the Inn as she watched. Abdu'l-Bahá sent His secretary to call him back.

The Master stepped up to him and took his hand, smiling into his face as though greeting a welcome friend. The man was very ragged and dirty. His trousers particularly were filthy and barely covered his limbs. Abdu'l-Bahá talked with him a few moments. His face a smiling benediction. He seemed to be trying to cheer the old man and finally there did appear the trace of a smile, but it was rather bleak. Abdu'l-Bahá's eyes swept the pitiable figure, and then He laughed gently: He said something to the effect that the old man's trousers were not very serviceable and that we must remedy that lack.

It was very early in the morning and the street deserted. My friend, watching, saw Abdu'l-Bahá step into the shadow of the porch and He seemed to be fumbling under His `aba at the waist. Then He stooped. His trousers dropped to the ground. He gathered his robe about Him and turning handed the trousers to the old man. "May God go with you," He said, and turned to the secretary as if nothing unusual had happened. I wonder what that man thought as he went his way. I like to think that this glimpse into a world in which someone cared enough for him to give him his own garb rather than that he should need, marked an epoch in his life, and transformed the "brass of this world into gold by the alchemy of the spirit," as Bahá'u'lláh says.

During the prison life in `Akká Abdu'l-Bahá often gave His bed to those who had none, and He always refused to own more than one coat.

"Why should I have two," He said, "when there are so many who have none?"

I mention these things in this connection to show that Abdu'l-Bahá did not tell others the way of Life without walking therein Himself. In this incident I saw reflected indeed His advice to me in the parlor of the Inn that memorable Sunday.

A few days after leaving Dublin I wrote Abdu'l-Bahá thanking Him for His courtesy and kindness. And soon there came His first Tablet[25] to me, in answer to my letter, which I had not thought required an answer.

It was dated August 26, 1917. I quote it in full, for the universal viewpoint from which all His words were written robs them of any personal limitation.

"O thou, my revered friend:

Your letter imparted the utmost rejoicing, for its contents evidenced attraction to the Kingdom of God and enkindlement with the Fire of the Love of God!

A hundred thousand ministers have come and gone: they left behind no trace nor fruit, nor were their lives productive.

To be fruitless in the world of humanity is the manifest loss. A wise person will not attach his heart to ephemeral things: nay, rather, will he continually seek immortal life and strive to obtain eternal happiness.

Now, praise be to God that thou hast turned thy face towards the Kingdom, and art aspiring to receive Divine Bestowals from the Realm of Might.

I have become hopeful, and prayed that thou mayest attain to another Bounty; seek another Life; ask for another World; draw nearer unto God; become informed of the Mysteries of the Kingdom; attain to Life Eternal and become encircled with the Glory Everlasting.

Upon thee be the Glory of the Most Glorious!"

(signed) Abdu'l-Bahá `Abbas
Written from Maiden, Mass. 8/26/1912

I well remember the feelings with which I read this. It was to me then simply a beautiful letter, couched in Oriental imagery. That the last paragraph contained an actual summons to enter another World; to become truly informed of Mysteries hitherto unknown; to be, in very truth and as a personal experience, encircled with the Glory Everlasting and enter, while on this little planet, into a new and higher Life, so free, so vast, so joyous that only the word "eternal" would apply: all this did not dawn upon me for years.

It has become, however, increasingly apparent to me as the years have passed, that to the Writer these words expressed the station in which He constantly lived, and that the great objective of His life work was to summon men to as close an approximation of that station as their capacity would permit.

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