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‘Abdu’l-Bahá Gives His Impressions of New York

Abdul Baha Gives His Impressions of New York
New York Sun
July 7, 1912
New York

Leader of Bahá’ís Finds This City Beautiful and Great, but Its Civilization Is Too Material

Was Happy to Talk to the Men of the Bowery—He Has Done Little Sight Seeing in America

ABDU’L-BAHA ABBAS, leader of the sect of Bahá’ís and head of a religion which is said to have several hundred thousand followers, has recently finished a pilgrimage in search of disciples which stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In the course of his journey the Master, as he is called by his converts, has visited Chicago, San Francisco, Cleveland, Detroit, Washington, Philadelphia and other cities.

At the request of THE SUN the prophet of the Bahá’í religion dictated a statement concerning his impressions of New York and other cities he has visited. At the outset he explained that in his travels the material things he has seen have interested him but little. He hasn’t cared to see any of the notable buildings of New York and has not visited the museums and art galleries.

While he has seen a bit of Central Park, his time, when he has not been with his disciples at his temporary residence, 309 West Seventy-eighth street, or speaking at meetings in various parts of the city, has been spent in walking through Riverside Park, near the place of abode. It is in this way that he takes his rest and he usually goes alone, because he finds no rest when there is some one along with whom he might converse.

For these reasons he has seen less of New York and this country than the average traveller from abroad, and although he is to remain here until fall, there is little likelihood that he will see much more before he departs for the East. While ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had picked up a few English words of greeting while in this country and is acquainted with various foreign languages, he speaks most expressively in his native tongue. THE SUN is therefore indebted to his interpreter, Dr. Ameen U. Fareed, for the translation of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s account of his impressions, which follows:

New York is very well built and it is very costly, but too many people reside in it. I like small towns and cities and I liked Washington very much. New York is very prosperous and I can see it is a great commercial centre.

As one approaches the harbor New York looms up in the horizon as a colossal statue symbolic of all America. From every standpoint it exhibits extraordinary advancement. Likewise all the other cities of America are in the utmost order. The continent is a garden in the utmost state of freshness and rapture.

But it needs a melody of the kingdom in order that it may become the paradise of the world of humanity. The Government is a fair one; the nation intelligent. The liberty of the world of humanity, like an eagle, has unfurled its royal feathers and overshadowed this clime. I hope that it may achieve the utmost of progress.

It is my hope that the banner of universal peace may be first hoisted in America and that the tabernacle of the oneness of mankind shall be pitched hither. The oneness of language may first radiate from here and spread throughout the world.

What is the melody of the kingdom? To be free from the world of matter a bit. In the Orient, through the effective power of Bahá’u’lláh, the foundation of divine and heavenly civilization was laid, and in the Occident its material civilization is day by day advancing. If divine civilization together with material civilization be united, then it shall be light upon light, and the utmost happiness will accrue to the body politic.

Consider that the body politic in these countries is day and night exerting itself to the utmost in order to obtain wealth, but you do not have happiness, love and unity among hearts such as ought to obtain. They do not exist because cordial love, save through the emanations of the conscience and spiritual susceptibility cannot be realized.

Material love is an exigency of the animal world, but the love of the conscience is an exigency of the world of man, and the latter cannot be attained save through heavenly means.

His holiness Christ endured all hardships and ordeals in order to found the spiritual love and that the world might be illuminated. No matter how far material civilization shall have advanced it will not prove the cause of fellowship love; but divine civilization has for its fundamental basis absolute love. That is why God has sent prophets in order that they may found divine civilizations and connect the hearts of men with one another.

The foundation of all the divine religions is love, but alas, that the religionists have used the religion as the cause of enmity and the cause of murder and rapine, whereas his holiness Bahá’u’lláh states that ‘if religion be the cause of enmity surely the lack of religion is better than its presence. Because religious teachings are as remedies, if the remedy be productive of disease, surely its lack is better than its presence. To forsake that treatment is better than its use.’

The divine religions are all capable of commingling because they are all reality and reality is one. Subsequent imitations, which have nothing to do whatsoever with the divine religions, have proved to be the cause of warfare and battle. If the nations of the world forsake all these subsequent imitations and investigate the fundamental groundwork of religion they will all arrive at the reality and will exercise fellowship and love, and this warfare of 6,000 years duration shall be removed from among mankind.

What I have seen of New York is very beautiful, beautiful. The people of this country are very intelligent and quick to grasp.

Washington is small, but it is a good city. It is most delightful and refreshing, like a garden. While the capitals of Europe are very much larger, I like Washington the best.

I like New York better than Chicago, but I did not go into the buildings in either city, and I do not know that the buildings are higher in New York than in Chicago.

I am not interested in things that are merely beautiful to look at, but I am interested in the soul. I have nothing to do with mortar and clay. I wish to view an edifice that is never to be destroyed. But I am pleased with the people of America. They are noble people.

From the beginning of human society the means for advancement may be reduced into two. One is philosophy and the other is religion. Philosophy serves the material world, but religion serves the world of morality. For example, Aristotle, the great philosopher served material civilization, but Christ illumined the world and founded the spirit of civilization. The world of humanity is in need of both.

These two civilizations are like two wings for man wherewith he can soar. To soar with one wing is not possible. The civilizations must be united in order that mankind may soar and reach the height of perfection.

The earth’s sphere, however much it may ignite lamps, nevertheless is ever in need of the effulgence of the sun. Matter, however much it is refined, is in need of the spirit. Consider the great philosophers who have come. Their efforts at most were confined to a limited circle, but the holy, divine manifestations exercise an influence in an unlimited circle.

The philosophers were able to educate a few souls, whereas the divine holy manifestations educate a republic. The effect of the philosophic instruction is lasting only for numbered days, but the effect of holy divine manifestations is everlasting and never ending.

I find here how material civilization has progressed. The crafts have been perfected, the agricultural sciences have improved, and material science has been established. But the civilization of the spirit must not be left behind.

The material civilization is like a glass in a lamp chimney. The spiritual civilization is the light in that chimney. The spirit civilization cannot be accomplished through ordinary means for the interests of matter and spirit differ. It is evident that it cannot be accomplished through patriotism; this human solidarity is impossible save through a spiritual power.

Humanity is submerged in a sea of materiality and the light of the sun of truth can be seen but dimly. The heavenly civilization is daily making itself manifest, and it is my hope that the foundations of this solidarity may be established so that the hearts of the East and the West may be a divine unit and that this world may find peace.

May the hearts of men become as mirrors and may the light of truth shine on these mirrors.

The social unit of the world is like the ocean and each individual is like a wave and each wave belongs to that ocean. The most important thing is to polish the mirror of the heart so that it can reflect the sun. In the mirror that is polished you will see the sun in all its majesty, but the mirror full of dross is incapable of refulgence. But the sun is always the same.

The centre of the light is the sun, and the centre of the sun is God. Therefore we must try to make love take possession of the heart so that all humanity of the East and of the West may be one, fore we are all recipients of the bounty of the sun.

In the Orient there were great differences. The various peoples hated each other and the divergent sects were inimical to each other until Bahá’u’lláh appeared from the Eastern dawn and connected the people by his love until the former enmity gave place to love, and a new spring appeared. And through this new spring appeared meadows with flowers of inner significance, and the real spring became visible.

I talked to the men of the Bowery and I was happy then, for I was talking to my friends. I consider the poor my brothers, my companions. One who is poor should be thankful to God, for He never said, “Blessed are the rich.” Happiness does not depend upon wealth. The rich are remorseful, never peaceful. We come to this world naked, and we must leave it naked. All possessions have to be left behind, therefore the poor have no regrets.

When I leave these United States in a few months for the East I can repeat the loving farewell I gave to the people of France and England. I am very much pleased with all the countries I have visited.

I counsel them all that they may day by day strengthen the bond of love and amity to this end—that they may become the sympathetic embodiment of one nation, that they may extend themselves to a universal brotherhood to guard and protect the interests of all the nations of the East and West, that they may unfurl the divine banner of justice, that they may realize and treat each nation as a family composed of the individual children of God, and may know that in the sight of God the rights of all are equal.

It has made me happy to visit new York and the other cities of these United states, and I would say let us all become as one so that each may become representative of the bounty of God.