The Search for Truth as Principle and Prophecy

Like looking at my watch for the time of day, I often check the calendar for what happened on this day in history – and also to double-check what historians have recounted about those events. 

On Friday, November 15, 1912, Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani – the chronicler of Abdu’l-Baha’s travels, according to Shoghi Effendinoted the following event in New York City:  

There was a public meeting in the evening at the home of Miss Juliet Thompson. The Master spoke about the greatness of this cycle, the victory of the Cause and the influence and importance of the teachings and laws of Baha’u’llah. His talk was delivered in such awe-inspiring tones that the minds were dazzled and the hearts captivated by the grandeur and majesty of the Center of the Covenant. Both before and after the meeting many people were honored to visit with Him in a separate room. 

RELATED: Abolition of Prejudice as Principle and Prophecy

Of that same memorable night, Baha’i artist, Juliet Thompson (1873–1956), in her Diary, recalled the following:

On 15 November the Master [Abdu’l-Baha] came to our house (48 West Tenth Street) and gave a most wonderful talk in the front room on the first floor to a great crowd of people who filled both the front and back rooms and the hall. …

I have spoken,” He said, “in the various Christian churches and in the synagogues, and in no assembly has there been a dissenting voice. All have listened and all have conceded that the Teachings of Baha’u’llah are superlative in character, acknowledging that they constitute the very essence or spirit of this age and that there is no better pathway to the attainment of its ideals. Not a single voice has been raised in objection. At most there have been some who have refused to acknowledge the Mission of Baha’u’llah, although even these have admitted that He was a great teacher, a most powerful soul, a very great man. Some who could find no other pretext have said: ’These Teachings are not new; they are old and familiar; we have heard them before.’ Therefore, I will speak to you upon the distinctive characteristics of the Manifestation of Baha’u’llah and prove that from every standpoint His Cause is distinguished from all others.

There are two slightly differing versions of Abdu’l-Baha’s talk on November 15, 1912 – the original published version, and the version edited by Howard MacNutt and published in The Promulgation of Universal Peace. The differences vary, depending on the extent of the editing, while the essence of the discourse remains the same. The original version was published as the lead article in the Baha’i magazine Star of the West on April 28, 1917. The Promulgation version adds: “Notes by Hooper Harris,” and can be found here. Personally, I prefer the Star of the West version. Here’s why:

William Hooper Harris was a professional court reporter — and, as such, must have taken very accurate notes of the contemporaneous, real-time translation of Abdu’l-Baha’s talk. Mr. Harris was admitted to the bar in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1893” and “in 1894 … came to New York City to live, where he became an expert court reporter, doing work of unusually high quality till the very day of his death.”  Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, called Harris “one of the leading apostles of Baha’u’llah.” 

This is what Abdu’l-Baha had to say, in part, on that occasion:

If we glance through history and review the pages of holy writ we will find that none of the prophets of the past ever spread his teachings or promulgated his cause from a prison. But his holiness [Baha’u’llah] held aloft the banner of the Cause of God while he was in a dungeon, addressing the kings of the earth from his prison cell and severely arraigning them for their oppression of their subjects and their misuse of power. The letter he sent to the Shah of Persia under such conditions may now be read by anyone. Likewise his epistle to the Sultan of Turkey is current among men as are also his epistles to Napoleon, the Emperor of the French, and to the other rulers of the world, including the President of the United States.

The book, or tablet, containing these “Epistles to the Kings,” was published in India, some thirty years ago and is known as the Surat’l’Hykl, or the “Discourse on the Temple.” Whatever is recorded in these epistles has come to pass. Some of the prophecies contained in these “Epistles to the Kings” came to pass after two years; others were fulfilled after five or ten years; still others after twenty years. Some of the most important prophecies, relative to events transpiring in the Balkans are being fulfilled at the present time though written long ago. For instance, in the epistle which [Baha’u’llah] addressed to the Sultan of Turkey the war and the occurrences of the present day were foretold by him. These events were also prophesied in the tablet he addressed to the City of Constantinople. All of the events which are taking place in Constantinople at present were foretold by him long ago.

Now, during all this time, while he was addressing himself to these powerful rulers, he was a prisoner in a Turkish dungeon. Consider how marvelous it was for a prisoner under the eye and control of the Turks to address so daringly, so boldly and so severely the very king who was responsible for his imprisonment! What power is this! What greatness! Nowhere in history is the record of such an episode to be found. In spite of the iron rule and absolute dominion of these kings his function was to withstand them; and so constant and firm was he that he caused their banners to come down and his own standard to be upraised; for today the flags of both the Ottoman and the Persian empires are trailing in the dust, whereas the standard of [Baha’u’llah] is being held aloft in the world both in the East and in the West. Consider what tremendous power this is! What a decisive argument! Although a prisoner in a fortress, he paid no heed to these kings, regarded not their power of life and death but on the contrary addressed them in plain and fearless language telling them explicitly that the time would come when their flags would be brought low, whereas his own flag would be held aloft. He declared freely:

“Ere long you will find yourselves in manifest loss. Your sovereignties will be laid waste; your empires will become a wilderness and a heap of ruins; hosts from without will come and subdue your lands; lamentation and mourning will emanate from your homes. There will be no throne; there will be no crown; there will be no palace; there will be no armies. Nay, rather, all these will be brought low. But the standard of the Cause of God will be held aloft. Then you will see that hosts and hosts will enter the Cause of God and that this mighty revelation will be spread throughout the world.”

All of you should get the “Discourse on the Temple,” the Surat’l’Hykl, read these prophecies carefully, and ponder over them.

Now this is one of the characteristics of [Baha’u’llah]. Of what prophetic dispensation can you recount such events?

In what cycle have such things taken place? In which one of the sacred books do you find such prophecies of the future? Turn to the holy books of the past and study them and see if you can find such explicit statements!

And now let us compare the teachings of [Baha’u’llah] with the holy teachings which have descended in the past.

First among the great teachings of Baha’u’llah is that of the Investigation of Reality.

The meaning is that every individual member of humanity is exhorted to set aside superstitions, traditions and the blind imitation of ancestors and forefathers and investigate, for himself, reality. Inasmuch as the reality is one, through the investigation of reality all the religions and nations of the world will become one. [Emphasis added.]

In which one of the sacred books of the past do you find the announcement of this principle?

RELATED: Baha’u’llah’s Principles As Prophecies

The prophecy connected with the Baha’i principle of the “Investigation of Reality” – the search for truth – is “through the investigation of reality all the religions and nations of the world will become one.”

Later in this “Figuring Out Prophecy” series, we will take a closer look at the remarkable prophecies of Baha’u’llah that Abdu’l-Baha recounted in his seminal address that day in New York.

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