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Marcus Bach was an American writer and lecturer on religion, and founder and director of “The Fellowship for Spiritual Understanding.” At one point in his life, Dr. Bach set out to meet the five people of his time whom he felt best exemplified the teachings of Jesus Christ in their lives. He travelled 40,000 miles in pursuit of this aim, interviewing Helen Keller, Pope Pius XII, Albert Schweitzer,Therese Neumann, and Shoghi Effendi.
“I went to Israel recently, to the harbor city of Akka, for it was there that Baha’u’llah, banished from Baghdad, spent his years of exile. To this windswept land, where Francis of Assisi once walked, Baha’u’llah came in chains in 1865. I went to the old prison where he was held captive for 25 years and where his son, Abdul-Baha, was a prisoner for 40 years. As I poked around behind the old walls and peered into the dungeons, the Baha’i story came to life. Baha’u’llah, like Jesus, had a forerunner who called himself the Bab, which means “the Gate.” In the midst of the religious and political wrangling of Moslem, Christian and Jew, the Bab said in effect: “A plague on all your houses. You have all lost sight of your common origin.” He preached that God is the Father of all men and the Founder of all faiths, and that the time had come when heaven would personify this truth. Like John the Baptist, the Bab announced the coming of a messiah: Baha’u’llah, who proclaimed himself in 1863.
I went to Bahji, some six kilometers inland. Here is the sheik’s mansion where Baha’u’llah lived like a prince after his release from prison and where he died in 1892. Here is the holy spot where Christians, Jews, Moslems, Zoroastrians and Buddhists came to “lament the loss and magnify the greatness of the herald of God.” Baha’is even today do not speak of the death of Baha’u’llah but, rather, of his ascension. In reverence, I knelt beside the bier.
As I walked through the majestic rooms I was reminded that it was here, years ago, that the noted Cambridge University Orientalist, Edward G. Browne, visited Baha’u’llah. His impressions, widely quoted, are precious to every ardent Baha’i: “The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul…. No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before One who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!”
This was Baha’u’llah whose power and grace Baha’is saw reflected in his successor, Abdul-Baha, and which they see mirrored today in the present leader, Shoghi Effendi, the eldest son of the eldest daughter of Abdul-Baha, and a distant relative of the Bab. This was Baha’u’llah who, as my minister friend insisted, “can never be sold to Americans; even his name is against him.”
But quietly in the heart of every Baha’i there lives a feeling that he and his fellows are children of destiny as well as children of light. Baha’u’llah assured them in his writings: “Be not dismayed! Arise to further my cause and to exalt my word among men….. We are truly almighty. Whoso hath recognized me will arise and truly serve me with such determination that the powers of earth and heaven shall be unable to defeat his purpose.”
I have met Baha’is in many parts of the world. They are all cut to the same pattern: heartfelt dedication to the cause and person of Baha’u’llah, zeal in the advancement of their ideals. They ask no salaries, want no honor, and are literally more interested in giving than in receiving. Typical were two Baha’i women I met in Chichicastenango. They had been in this Guatemalan village for two years and had won two converts among the Maya-Quichés. “Isn’t this slow progress?” I asked. “That all depends on how you figure it,” I was told. “Who knows the power or the value of one soul?”
The Baha’i faith may have been slow in getting started in America because of its ambitious and altruistic world-uniting program. It may have put the cart before the horse. It may have oversold Baha’u’llah on the basis of the oneness of all faiths. But a second look shows that by way of its devotion and the opening door, it may loose itself from captivity. It may also be that the minister was quite right when he said, “If these Baha’is ever get going, they may take the country by storm!””
Published in The Christian Century, Volume 74, Number 15 (April 10, 1957)
Major Wellesley Tudor Pole was a writer, philosopher and English mystic. He authored many pamphlets and books and was a life long pursuer of religious experiences and mystical visions, being particularly involved with spiritualism and the Glastonbury movement.
“The fundamental truths of life and conduct as proclaimed through Jesus have been reaffirmed in picturesque language by the Bahá’í leaders, this reaffirmation being worded to meet the needs of our complex modern “civilisation”. The Founders of both these Faiths possessed outstanding powers of healing and seership.”
“What is the special appeal voiced by Bahá’u’lláh and his son, which has resulted in so many of their followers the world over asserting that they are no longer Jews, Christians, Moslems or Buddhists, as such but have become Bahá’ís? The answer may well be that as each religious revelation becomes crystallised, dogmatic and formal, the need arises for Truth to be restated in terms that conform to the needs of the new hour.”
“The most abiding impression I received from intimate contact with him was his immense breadth of outlook, permeated with the spirit of deep and loving kindness. Whatever the topic under discussion – ranging from religion to the weather, from sunsets to the flowers, from ethics to personal behaviour, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá always struck the universal note, the note of Oneness as between the Creator and all His creation, great or small.”
“He was a man of great spiritual stature and prophetic vision and I shall always cherish the affection he bestowed upon me and the inspiration that his life and example have given to me ever since he first came into my life in I908…
Although of a little less than medium height, Abdu’l Bahá made an impression on all who met him by his dignity, friendliness, and his aura of spiritual authority. His blue-grey eyes radiated a luminosity of their own and his hands were beautiful in their grace and healing magnetism. Even his movements were infused with a kind of radiance.
His compassion for the aged, for children and the down-trodden knew no bounds. I remember once after he had visited a Salvation Army refuge near the Embankment, in London, tears came to his eyes. He could not understand how a wealthy nation like Britain could allow such poverty and loneliness in its midst. He spoke about this to Archdeacon Wilberforce of Westminster Abbey and to Dr. R. J. Campbell of the City Temple and he provided a sum of money through London’s Lord Mayor for the succour of the poor and derelict, then so prominent a feature of the London scene.
In speaking to me, he often referred to the need for providing food and sustinence for those in want, as a primary requisite to supplying moral and spiritual food for the heart and for the mind.”
“I well remember him, majestic yet gentle, pacing up and down the garden whilst he spoke to me about eternal realities, at a time when the whole material world was rocking on its foundations. The power of the spirit shone through his presence, giving one the feeling that a great prophet from Old Testament days had risen up in a war-stricken world, to guide and inspire all who would listen to hlm.”
“Though by no means a fanatic, I am bound to say that my visit to these places, sacred to Bahá’u’lláh and his son, have deepened my conviction that the Bahá’í movement has an important part to play in the religious regeneration of the world, and especially the Eastem world.”
From The Silent Road, 1960
“The Bahá’í call for peace comes at a crucial moment in the history of humanity. Peace in the contemporary world is no longer an option but a necessity. All leaders and peoples of the world must come to realize this fact,and achieve the maturity which the Bahá’í Faith foresees for the coming of age of humanity.”
“It would be unwise…to attempt to picture even in broad outlines what might be the kind of social system that would be most likely to emerge after a profound reorganization of mankind on a global scale. For a relatively long time the process of re-structuring a society of such a scope and obvious complexity would almost inevitably know ups and downs, and perhaps crucial conflicts; unless a very large section of the coming generations spontaneously would experience such a change of consciousness that, perhaps under some quasi-divine guidance, they can readily accept as valid and necessary some basic principles of social organization, such as, for instance, is envisioned by adherents to the Bahá’í Faith.”
From Directives for New Life
“…Thus the “massacre of the Innocents”, among whom Herod hoped to have the newborn Jesus destroyed, is really to be interpreted as the cyclic destruction of those Initiates who pave the way for the Great One, and whose sacrificial deaths leaven the soil in whom His mission is to become rooted. These Initiates represent the John-the-Baptist phase of the avataric descent. They are heralds as well as martyrs. They close a cycle, and make the opening of another possible.
We find the same series of happenings in the Bahá’í traditions. The Báb and the thousands of his followers who underwent martyrdom leavened the soil trod by Bahá’u’lláh, the “Glory of God”.”
From New Mansions for New Men
Mark Tobey was one of the leading American painters of his generation. His unique abstract paintings strongly influenced many artists as did his championing of the Bahá’í Faith and other Eastern philosophies.
“The root of all religions, from the Bahá’í point of view, is based on the theory that man will gradually come to understand the unity of the world and the oneness of mankind. It teaches that all the prophets are one – that science and religion are the two great powers which must be balanced if man is to become mature. I feel my work has been influenced by these beliefs. I’ve tried to decentralize and interpenetrate so that all parts of a painting are of related value… Mine are the Orient, the Occident, science, religion, cities, space, and writing a picture.”
“What rivers of inspiration pour from the greatness of Bahá’u’lláh’s Being as He attempts to acquaint us with this vision of Oneness, this sublimity of the One Great Power! It is, as though from every leaf and doorway, from every cloud and flower, from the mystery of sun and shadow, rain and heat – multiple mystic voices poured into His Heart the Glories of God. It is as though His eye beheld and knew the mystery hidden by the ardour of Its own manifestation!”
Robert Hayden was a pioneering African-American poet. He won the Grand Prize for Poetry at the First World Festival of Negro Arts and 1975 Fellow of the academy of American Poets. He served two terms as Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress, was a member of the American academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and professor of English at the University of Michigan.
Bahá’u’lláh in the Garden of Ridwan
Agonies confirm His hour,
and swords like compass-needles turn
toward His heart,
The midnight air is forested
with presences that shelter Him
and sheltering praise
The auroral darkness which is God
and sing the word made flesh again
Eternal exile whose return
He watches in a borrowed garden,
prays. And sleepers toss upon
their armored beds,
Half-roused by golden knocking at
the doors of consciousness. Energies
like angels dance
Glorias of recognition.
Within the rock the undiscovered suns
release their light.
From A Ballad of Remembrance
As a performer and mentor, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie” was one of the most influential jazz trumpeters and bandleaders of the 20th century. He was instrumental in the founding of the be-bop style and Afro-Cuban jazz.
“I believe that there is one God and He manifests Himself to mankind through great teachers for specific periods of time in our spiritual development, that He sends them periodically. It’s like a relay runner who has a baton in his hand. You could look at the Word of God like a baton, the Holy Spirit. The runner grabs the baton and he runs and runs and runs; and while he runs that is the revelation of what’s happening. When he gets to the end, he passes it on to the next guy, and he starts running with it, and that’s the next religion. It’s the same religion; it’s just that a different prophet’s running with it. He passes it to the next and the next and so on until there is peace and unity of mankind on earth as it is in Heaven.”
“Becoming a Bahá’í changed my life in every way and gave me a new concept of the relationship between God and man – between man and his fellow man – man and his family. It’s just all consuming. I became more spiritually aware, and when you’re spiritually aware, that will be reflected in what you do. They teach you in the Bahá’í faith, without the idea of stopping you from doing things, to fill your life with doing something that’s for real, and those other things you do, that are not for real, will fall off by themselves. I never needed to say, ‘I’m gonna stop doing this.’ I just found out that there was no time for it anymore. I started praying and reading a lot too. The (Bahá’í) writings gave me new insight on what the plan is – God’s plan – for this time, the truth of the oneness of God, the truth of the oneness of the prophets, the truth of the oneness of mankind. That’s it; that’s what I learned.”
“In the Bahá’í religion we don’t believe in cutting loose anything good. Cut loose your heritage? Bahá’ís believe that you bring it in and work with others. Bring it into the whole just like a master painting. Because I’m purple and there’s another cat who’s orange doesn’t mean that we can’t come into one big compatible complementary arrangement. Just contribute from your own uniqueness, but don’t get over in their groove. Stay outta theirs!”
From Dizzy – To Be Or Not To Bop, 1979
“At the front and head of all saints, poets, artists and philosophers, stand great figures – Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Guatama, Christ. Mohammed, and, I believe, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh – shedding light and love upon mankind – the milestones of human evolution. No power of kings and conquerors, nor even of genius, can compare with the sway which their authority has exercised throughout recorded history, until day has turned to night and men have twisted Their Teachings to suit their own purposes…
Bahá’u’lláh’s light shone in Persia and Palestine a century ago. He recognized and united the Teachings of all the Founders of religions providing thereby a true basis for World Peace and Unity… He has left a great body of writing and a complete Plan of World Order based upon man’s relationship with God, man’s relationship with himself, and man’s relationship with man.”
From My Religious Faith, 1953
“A man was born at the close of one era and the beginning of another, whose concept of inclusive unity gave so powerful a voice as to eventually force me out of my persistent doubt. His name was Bahá’u’lláh (The Glory of God). Born in Persia in 1817, he died in Palestine in 1892 after forty years of exile and prison, from whence His fuller revelation emanated. For the first time a divine Genius could speak to mankind during the greatest crisis in history. This is the ‘time of the end’ (of an epoch), when men may comprehend that which Jesus said they could not comprehend in his day. Instead of a diminution of the concept of God to nullity is its expansion to man’s united wholeness. How else can we understand each other or hope for peace?…
To those readers who feel surprised that I give such loyalty to three Persian Teachers whose spiritual and practical lives were selfless as was Christ’s, my reply is that the absence of the separating self implies the Presence of God. Those pure mirrors reflecting the Essence of Being described in the Bible as ‘I am that I am’ I have called spiritual or divine Geniuses of the human race.”
From Drawings, Verse and Belief, 1973
Al Gore is an American environmental activitist, author and former politician. He served as the 45th Vice-President of the USA from 1993 to 2001. In his book ‘Earth in the Balance’, he explores the spiritual teachings of world religions concerning planet earth.
“One of the newest of the great universalist religions, Baha’i, founded in 1863 in Persia by Mirza Husayn Ali, warns us not only to properly regard the relationship between humankind and nature but also the one between civilization and the environment. Perhaps because its guiding visions were formed during the period of accelerating industrialism, Baha’i seems to dwell on the spiritual implications of the great transformation to which it bore fresh witness: “We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life molds the environment and is itself deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.” And, again, from the Baha’i sacred writings comes this: “Civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men.””
From Earth in the Balance, 1993
John Hick is an internationally acclaimed philosopher of religion and theologian. His many books have, between them, been translated into seventeen languages. More than twenty books have been published about his work in English, German, French, Chinese and Japanese.
“But the most explicit teaching of pluralism as religious truth comes from the region between east and west, namely Iran (Persia). It was here that the nineteenth-century prophet Bahá’u’lláh taught that the ultimate divine reality is in itself beyond the grasp of the human mind, but has nevertheless been imaged and responded to in different historically and culturally conditioned ways by the founders of the different faith-traditions. The Bahá’í religion which he founded continues to teach this message in many countries today.”
From The Fifth Dimension, 1999