239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

Day
45
 | 
May 25, 1912
Boston, MA
Storify Feature

‘Abdu’l-Bahá Draws a Line in the Sand

“SISTERS AND BROTHERS OF AMERICA!” the man said, dressed in bright orange. Then he had to wait for more than three minutes while 7,000 people rose from their seats at the Art Institute of Chicago and gave him a prolonged standing ovation.

.

“I am proud,” he continued, “to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.”

Everyone agreed that on that day — September 11, 1893 — the colorful Swami Vivekananda had captured the spirit of the World’s Parliament of Religions, which was being held in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition. The nation he meant was India, and the religion Hinduism.

The trouble is, there was no such thing as “Hinduism,” or, at least, not until very recently. In fact, there was no word for “religion” in any of the Indian languages, nor any word for “spirituality” either. These terms had only appeared by 1893 as the result of a century-long reaction among educated Indians to the increasing encroachment by British colonialism. Out of India’s unfathomable diversity, the reformers of the “Hindu Renaissance” developed a single cultural, religious, and political identity that could compete with an expansionist Western cultural project. The result was an Indian spiritual mission to the West that portrayed India as the home of an ancient spirituality far superior to the modern materialistic civilization of Europe. In America, these radical ideas were incorporated by Emerson into Transcendentalism.


.

On the surface, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s comments about the “spirituality” of the East and the “materialism” of the West sounded virtually identical to the Indian reformers. But nothing could have been further from the truth.

On May 25, 1912, at a talk at Huntington Chambers in Boston, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made it clear that he didn’t put any stock in the ability of ancient traditions to meet the needs of the modern world. “Thoughts and theories of past ages are fruitless now,” he said. “It is evident that counterfeit and spurious religious teaching, antiquated forms of belief and ancestral imitations . . . must also pass away and be reformed.”

Neither did he believe the nostalgic notion that modern society was somehow inferior to the civilizations of the past. “If comparison be made with the sum total of all former human achievements, it will be found that the discoveries, scientific advancement and material civilization of this present century have equaled, yea far exceeded the progress and outcome of one hundred former centuries.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá was obviously talking about something very different than just combining ancient religious teachings into a new ecumenical spirit, such as Vivekananda had done in Chicago in 1893. He was here to describe a new revelation of God to man.

ADD A NEW COMMENT

  • Anne Perry

    Mahmúd says there were over 1000 people gathered for the talk at Huntington Chambers.  It’s astonishing to think about that kind of crowd and the impact Abdu’l-Baha had.  Both sages carried a certain drama of personality–thanks for helping us to see the difference in the two messages. 

  • Myra Grassfield

    Isn’t it interesting, though, that these audiences expected Abdul’Baha to present according to their stereotypes of an Eastern religious leader? I appreciate understanding how He embraced the best of the modern, Western World while always pointing to the need for the Spiritual World. He acknowledged both without needing to brag about Himself or the Baha’i Faith.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Maxwell/1140616716 William Maxwell

    Finally, the world has some enlightened persons who understand the underlying pattern of human evolution and history.  Bravo to the developers of this series of history lessons that in a really fair world would win all sorts of honors and prizes.

    William Maxwell
    in Tirana, Albania

  • JWoodall

    A “new cycle of human power.”

  • Linda

    I truly appreciate anyone who promotes peace, love and harmony, they share their wisdom,. which not everyone has, or, they  do  find it along their individual  journey through life.  Some more quickly then others. Some are much more dedicated to their work, God’s working through them, is the most awesome experience they could experience, and to know the difference is indeed a blessing! Nothing of ourselves that we may boast.
    God does not have a religion,  I personally, don’t consider myself denominational, or religious, oh, I was raised that way….brought to church by others, taught all the rules and regulations. Tried all my life to do what was right, which , the Bible says, we all do what we think is right in our own eyes.
    Everyone can agree, I suppose, none of us ALWAYS does what is right.Also, God laughs at man’s wisdom.( also in the Word) So, we have issues….. we search out the Creator.
    In wondering, wandering, searching, and a difficult time in my life, God showed   His love for me., as I know he does for many, many people, He so loves us all!
    So here is something I think is universal;
    accept or reject, he gave us all free will…..I don’t claim to be a scholar, I just know my heart changed that day I accepted HIM….Jesus, the Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us. As I believed, accepted, I found I was changing, attitude, seeing better, loving more, all because of Him, where no one else could help me.
    I give all the credit and Glory to Him alone, nothing of myself I can boast, I am not there yet, still an amazing journey, so much better with him then without, he loves us all, warts, faults flaws, his forgiveness is amazing, you know in your heart that it’s him, we can live freely through him and by him! So much peace!I could never do this on my own!
    So, anyone who reads this, I hope you can bear with me, I just wanted to share some of my journey on this page. thank you and I truly do send God’s blessings your way!!!

    John3;14-18  /1st John 5;11-13

    Sincerely,
    Linda

    • http://jmenon.com/ Jonathan Menon

      Linda,

      I think you have captured a lot of the spirit ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seems to have wanted us to grasp. Thank you for contributing such a lovely comment to our project!
      :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/lina.smithson Lina Smithson

    Those attending must have grasped that the Master was sharing a new Revelation.