28 June 2009

The Divine Plan and the Independent Investigation of Reality

There are a great many examples from the life of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in which He demonstrates independent investigation of reality. Of these, one will be examined, inasmuch as it illustrates the powerful role that action must play in this process. It comes from Tablets of the Divine Plan, where in His tablet of 21 February 1917 addressed to the Baha’is of Canada and Greenland He discusses His 1912 visit to Montreal. He recounts that before he departed for Canada many advised him not to travel to that city. He summarizes their objections, writing that “the majority of the inhabitants are Catholics, and are in the utmost fanaticism, that they are submerged in the sea of imitations, that they have not the capability to hearken to the call of the Kingdom of God, that the veil of bigotry has so covered the eyes that they have deprived themselves from beholding the signs of the Most Great Guidance, and that the dogmas have taken possession of the hearts entirely, leaving no trace of reality.[1] In short, ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s acquaintances did not believe the people of Montreal were capable of observing the cherished principle under consideration. They believed He should not bother with this city and should focus on other populations. He, no doubt, listened intently to these concerns. But, He writes, these stories did not have any effect on the resolution of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. He, trusting in God, turned his face toward Montreal. When he entered that city he observed all the doors open, he found the hearts in the utmost receptivity and the ideal power of the Kingdom of God removing every obstacle and obstruction. It was possible that the concerns of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s acquaintances were well founded. In which case, the visit could have been a grinding disappointment. The unreceptivity of that population could be established based on an engagement with real conditions. But that does not seem to be how His acquaintances came to their conclusions. What is more likely, is that their concerns were animated largely by prejudice; a prejudice about the prejudice of others. The best way to investigate the reality of this situation is to put forth the effort and actually teach amongst the people of Montreal. It is then possible to test whether they are in the utmost fanaticism, lack the capability to hearken to the call of the Kingdom of God or if dogmas have taken possession of the hearts entirely. As it happened, they were not. ‘Abdu’l-Baha was greatly impressed with the receptivity of those He encountered. He writes that he found no antagonist and no adversary and that [t]he believers he met in that city were in the utmost spirituality, and attracted with the fragrances of God. Had he taken His acquaintances at their word, merely imitating the received views of His hosts, the reality of the situation could not have been disclosed. Prejudice would have, once more, been reinforced. By showing forth an effort to test these expectations, He made it an occasion for his followers to learn not just about unfamiliar peoples but also about the attitudes they held about them.

Abdu’l Baha mentions that, though His visit was very short, the seeds He scattered would produce great harvests. He concludes this section with His wish for this community. Therefore I hope that in the future Montreal may become so stirred, that the melody of the Kingdom may travel to all parts of the world from that Dominion and the breaths of the Holy Spirit may spread from that center to the East and the West of America. Among the members of this community was Mary Maxwell, daughter of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s hosts May and Sutherland Maxwell, more widely known as Ruhiyyih Khanum Rabbani, Hand of the Cause of God and wife of Shoghi Effendi. Later in her life she traveled the world, promoting the Baha’i Faith and assisting local communities, no matter how isolated, in their own efforts to bring the faith to the masses of humanity. Gauging the profound and reverberating effect of these visits is a task far beyond the confines of this discussion. What can be said is that ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit was no doubt worthwhile.
[1] TDP 13.3 p. 93-4

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