Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
.
>>   Biographies Books Pilgrims' notes
TAGS: Architecture; Gardens; International Archives building; Life of Shoghi Effendi; Marble; Mashriqul-Adhkar (House of Worship); Obelisk; Pilgrims notes; Plants; Shrine of Bahaullah; Shrine of the Bab; World Centre; Writings of Shoghi Effendi
> add/edit tags

Shoghi Effendi:
Recollections

by Ugo Giachery

previous chapter chapter 2 start page single page chapter 4 next chapter

Chapter 3

[page 16]

III

HIS SPIRITUAL VIRTUES

HIS GREAT FAITH

OF all the characteristics that Shoghi Effendi possessed, the one that I believe was at the very core of his personality and was deeply rooted in his soul was the immense faith he had, his complete reliance on the efficacy of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation. He clung to His Teachings with a tenacity that cannot be likened to anything. His whole being was permeated with the power of the Revelation, and this is the reason that all who came near him or in contact with him felt so safe, so assured, so regenerated. For the same reason, scheming individuals who inclined towards evil-doing or deceit could not remain long in his presence and went away frightened, bewildered and chastened. During my years of association with Shoghi Effendi I experienced, over and over again, the power emanating from his belief, a power that removed difficulties, brought unexpected happy solutions and paved the way to better and greater achievements.

Counterbalancing this characteristic there was a tremendous aversion to unfaithfulness and Covenant-breaking. During one of my longer stays in Haifa, from the end of March to July 1952, the 'old' and 'new' Covenant-breakers, emboldened by the end of British administration in Palestine, devised a plan to wrest from the hands of the Guardian all the possessions of the Faith in the Holy Land, by challenging the authority conferred upon him in the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Bahá. Their machinations were intended mainly to harass Shoghi Effendi in the hope of bringing him to Court, where they could inflict on him publicly all kinds of humiliations through the use of legal cavils and the like. The affair lasted about three months, and of course ended with full victory for him, but what he suffered it is impossible to describe. The sacredness of the Institution of the Guardianship was not only challenged but was attacked for the purpose of creating confusion and turmoil in the rank and file of the believers. His great suffering was for the sacrilege being committed against this Institution of the Faith. It was so abhorrent to him that he felt physically ill, as if 'a thousand scorpions had bitten him'. During the most crucial days of this sorrowful experience, one night after dinner he spoke to me alone for several hours. His indignation was immense. He reviewed the tragic history of all that had happened since the days of the Bábi Dispensation, the sufferings inflicted on Bahá'u'lláh by Subh-i-Azal (Mirza Yahya), the perfidy of Muhammad-Ali against the Master, the situation that arose in 'Abdu'l-Bahá'í immediate family in the years which followed His passing, and all the acts of treachery and disobedience perpetrated by infamous followers in whom both the Master and himself had aforetime placed their trust. Often visibly grieved and filled with anxiety, he would say to me: 'You must know these things'; 'I want you to know these things'. These phrases he repeated several times during the course of the conversation. Many things he said I cannot repeat now, but they gave me a feeling of anguish and, I may say, of fear, because I became conscious that the Divine Covenant was assailed with vehemence by ruthless, satanic people, and that while the mass of the believers throughout the world were unaware of this grave danger, he, Shoghi Effendi, single and alone, was its defender, protected only by the armour and shield of his faith in God and His Covenant. The image passed rapidly through my mind of this new David battling single-handed against a ferocious, deadly monster, with all the terrors of the wilderness around him. He mentioned to me by name, one by one, the unfaithful members of his immediate family, their disobedience and obstinacy. He spoke also of the intrigues and disobedience of some followers who later had begged for forgiveness, with 'puny and pitiful excuses'. 'I am only the Guardian of the Cause of God and I must show justice,' he said; 'God only can show them mercy, if not in this world, in the next.' After a pause he looked at me silently for a while and then added: 'But if they repent the Guardian would know their sincerity and pardon them.'

During this entire conversation shadows of sorrow and dismay, like heavy storm clouds, passed over his luminous face. I could sense all the time the inner agony of his soul and the suffering of his body. A surge of unbounded love filled my heart. What would I have given to restore his happiness and tranquillity! How much I loved this Defender of the Covenant, this Sign of God on earth, the inspirer of every noble thought among the children of men! I had to control myself not to take him in my arms, to shield him from any further suffering, to assure him that for every Covenant-breaker there were thousands and thousands of believers who, like me, were ready to shed their blood if that were demanded!


[page 18]

THE GUARDIAN AND THE MAN

At this point I would like to illustrate still another of the spiritual virtues of Shoghi Effendi, which I had noticed before but which, during that vital conversation, became evident in all its strength and delicacy; namely, the capacity to separate himself as a man from Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Cause of God. When he spoke of the labours, duties, plans, present and future, the inspirations, the decisions of the Guardian, he was so impersonal that one could have believed he was speaking of another person. This endeared him even more, because to find such a balance of humility and greatness, of objectivity and selflessness coupled with a fertile, creative and poetic mind is one of the rare happenings in thousands of years. I have used the word delicacy, because in all his thought and action there was no affectation or remote trace of pride or vainglory. An illuminating example of this is to be found in one of his masterly letters, The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh, in the section on the Administrative Order wherein is described the station of the Guardian.[2]

    [2] This statement is included in WOB pp 150-2

Another notable instance of his impersonal identification with the Guardianship - due in part to the great respect and reverence he had for that divine Institution of the Faith decreed by its Founder - is the terse and extraordinary cablegram to the Bahá'ís of the United States in answer to a congratulatory message on the occasion of his marriage to a North American believer. [*]

    * Mary Maxwell, formerly of Montreal, Canada, daughter of the martyr of the Faith, May Bolles, and William Sutherland Maxwell, Hand of the Cause of God. The marriage took place in the Holy Land, on 25 March 1937. She was given the title Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum by the Guardian.

This cablegram is one of the most beautiful and moving messages sent by Shoghi Effendi and shows the high degree of his love for the people of the American continent and his delicate sensitivity. Many times since the cablegram was made public, I have thought of the bounty thus bestowed upon the American people, for which they ought to be proud and grateful for ever. It reads as follows:

"Deeply moved by your message. Institution of Guardianship, head cornerstone of the Administrative Order of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh, already ennobled through its organic connection with the Persons of Twin Founders of the Bahá'í Faith, is now further reinforced through direct association with West and particularly with the American believers, whose spiritual destiny is to usher in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. For my part I desire to congratulate community of American believers on acquisition of tie vitally binding them to so weighty an organ of their Faith." [3]

    [3] MA pp.8-9 The cablegram is dated 30 March 1937

Where can one find such nobility, expressed in a language that perhaps our generation is unable to understand and fully appreciate!


[page 19]

HIS HUMILITY AND SELFLESSNESS

Humility of a kind not yet known elsewhere was one of Shoghi Effendi's many unique virtues, a humility which came from the conviction that man's faculties are not self-created but are a precious trust from God, not to be displayed or used overbearingly or with vanity. And yet he emanated true pride and dignity, such a regal dignity that raised him far above any man I have yet met or known.

When conversing with him, one could strongly sense this feeling of humility, while his ample brow and penetrating eyes reflected an inner light born of faith, courage and determination. One could feel an awareness that was amazing and rendered one speechless.

Shoghi Effendi's selflessness was not only outstanding but exemplary. He never placed his personal interests or desires ahead of his functions as Guardian. Those who were near to him inevitably felt that his life was something to be fully expended in the service of God and humanity, in a dedication unlike that of any other human being. When close to him I always felt the powerful process of his sublimation to the reality of the unseen world, while his body was there, near to me, like a visible, finely-tuned musical instrument whose melodies, imperceptible to the human ear, vibrated unseen through the ether.

He was always ready to give comfort, verbally or in writing, to encourage, to praise and to stimulate to such a degree that one felt the urge to place at his disposal life, time and possessions within the range of one's capacity and emotional exaltation. This was the essence of his detachment from worldly things. The less he thought of himself, the higher he soared in the sphere of spiritual authority and prestige. This was perhaps the secret of his tremendous attraction and influence upon those who came close to him.


[page 20]

HIS INVOLUNTARY CONNECTION WITH THE DIVINE SOURCE

If one were to relate in detail the manifold aspects of the personality of Shoghi Effendi which like facets of a perfectly cut gem reflected the rays of divine light and inspiration, many volumes would not suffice. I firmly believe that psychologists will come to agree with the point of view that while human beings, generally, react in a voluntary or semi-voluntary way to circumstance, situations, inspiration and even to what may be considered illumination from the Divinity, Shoghi Effendi, like a sensitive instrument connected to the Source of all powers, reacted involuntarily to the most imperceptible spiritual impulse which activated his organism, making him capable of executing and discharging all functions and responsibilities related to the Cause of God without the slightest probability of error.

This analysis, made at the very first meeting with him, explained to me clearly and conclusively the meaning of divine guidance and infallibility - two things that Shoghi Effendi could not voluntarily choose or control. During the spring of 1952, as already stated, when owing to his graciousness I was allowed to remain in the Holy Land for several months, the opportunity came to observe him systematically and under various conditions.

It generated great delight in me to do so, because it was like exploring an enchanted land where one passed from wonder to wonder, from surprise to marvel. The joyful part of it was derived from the simplicity and normality of the environment and from situations which permitted these observations without hindrance and under the most favourable circumstances.

It was Shoghi Effendi's habit, in the early afternoon, to interrupt his work on his correspondence and to be driven from the house on Persian Street to the Eastern Pilgrim House on the slope of Mt. Carmel, close to the Shrine of the Báb. At that time (spring 1952) the construction of the superstructure of the Shrine was progressing with some difficulty because the architect, William Sutherland Maxwell, had recently passed away,[*] and the building contractor was seriously ill. I therefore welcomed the opportunity to assist the head-mason in many details of the construction that were well known to me, since all the marble had been carved in Italy under my supervision. This permitted the opportunity of spending many hours at the Shrine, and although it was accepted that one would not intrude upon the Guardian on such an occasion, I would notice him from a distance, pacing the entire length of the northern gardens deeply absorbed in thought and absolutely unaware of his surroundings. He would then enter the Shrine for prayers, remaining for quite some time, after which, slowly retracing the paths of the garden, he would return to his automobile to be driven home. The atmosphere of peace and repose which eternally hovers over the gardens and around the Báb's Shrine, combined with the sacredness of the Spot, certainly offered him a haven from distress and physical exhaustion, so that all his faculties were regenerated by the power of divine inspiration and guidance. At night, when at dinner, his dear face, like an open book, would reveal the process undergone during the day, and his warm and enthusiastic conversation would confirm, without any doubt, the new heights scaled in the world of realities.

    * In Montreal, Canada, on 25 March 1952

[page ]

A few times I had the great blessing of being permitted to accompany Shoghi Effendi to the Shrines of Bahá'u'lláh in Bahji and of the Báb on Mt. Carmel. As we walked along the paths of the gardens, I was very close to him, and there came a feeling I cannot well describe. He walked with much dignity and grace, his fine intelligent face glowing with an inner light; his steps, well-measured and rhythmic, seemed to bring his feet scarcely in contact with the path, as if he feared to disturb the sanctity of the ground on which he trod or to break the harmony all around him. During my lifetime I have met several kings and many great personages in the scientific, political and ecclesiastical worlds, but never have I had the feeling of rapture and bliss that I felt in those unforgettable moments when I was so close to Shoghi Effendi. I could feel that although his body was with us (as on all these occasions a small group of believers was following him), his mind and spirit were rejoicing in the infinite realm of reality where no time, space or human frailties exist. The joy that overcame me on such occasions was as if I had reached the highest pinnacles of freedom and of true immortality. I could have laid down my life then and there without regret or sorrow, so immense was the flow of divine grace that enveloped me.

The first of these occasions was the anniversary of the Birth of the Báb. The few Western Bahá'í men who were in Haifa at the time (spring of 1952) gathered with other male believers of Haifa, 'Akka and Nazareth in the hall of the Eastern Pilgrim House on Mt. Carmel, to await the arrival of the Guardian.[*] When he came we had readings and chanting of prayers in Persian and Arabic, and then he led us to the Shrine. He walked ahead, slowly, with the utmost dignity, his head bent slightly forward in reverence. I received the impression that he was greatly moved by the majestic tranquillity of the surroundings and by the importance of the occasion. I walked after him, joyously, free from pains and cares, breathless as a runner nearing his goal, anticipating the moment when I could prostrate myself at the Holy Threshold of the beloved Báb's Tomb. In the incomparable beauty of the gardens, the outer world had vanished, leaving only a feeling of complete peace and contentment.

    * This Holy Day is celebrated in the Near and Middle East according to the lunar calendar

[page ]

In those days the superstructure of the Shrine of the Báb was but half erected; only the colonnade and the octagon were finished, and feverish efforts had been made the previous week to put into place the wrought-iron balustrade of the octagon section for this particular celebration. Shoghi Effendi stood at the door of the Shrine and anointed every one with attar of rose as we passed him. When the last had entered, he came in and prostrated himself, trying to contain his tears which were streaming from his eyes. When he rose, he stood silent for a moment, and then intoned a chant with such sweetness as cannot be expressed in words. His voice rose and fell with varied degrees of tonality, expressing sorrow and joy, exaltation and hope. I became unaware of place and time, transported on the wings of the chant to a remoteness filled with joy, into a stillness of space far above the toil and suffering of man, where I heard the hum of the universe in all its immensity. There and then my soul was eternally linked with Shoghi Effendi, the purest channel between man and eternity, between all the Prophets of God and His children.

Some time later the commemoration of the Ascension of Bahá'u'lláh gave me another opportunity to be with him. This time the group gathered on the lawn by the northwest corner of the Holy Tomb in Bahji, sitting in a circle out in the open, in the balmy spring air laden with the perfume of orange blossoms.

Readings and chanting of prayers preceded an address given by Shoghi Effendi, who from time to time would translate into English some of the salient points of his talk, which he gave in Persian. Afterwards he had oranges and tea served to us, and as the darkness of the evening began to descend, giving a uniform mellow tint to men, trees and all objects, he led us to the nearby door of the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh. Shock-like waves were running up my spine and a tremendous feeling of awe overtook me as I stopped to be anointed by the Guardian. He stood at the door with a gentle smile wreathing his luminous face, which the joyful expression of his eyes enhanced. All lights inside the Shrine were ablaze in great glory. Slowly we advanced one by one to the Holy Threshold. When I placed my forehead on the hallowed ground I felt that my soul was being sublimated in the Glory of the True Father. When I arose, dazed by this unearthly experience, I gazed again at Shoghi Effendi; he was absorbed in heavenly rapture, and his face radiated light, beauty, purity, joy and strength. The time spent inside the Shrine listening to the golden ringing tones of his chanting was the greatest recompense I could receive from him whom I loved so imperfectly yet so immensely. These episodes remain unforgettable and constitute now the richest rewards of my association with him.

My love for the Guardian had blossomed into a tenacious unbounded devotion which can never be experienced again with another being. He was the eternal student of the greatest book of all, the human heart. Well he knew how to direct the overwhelming flow of love which his unsullied and pure heart was capable of emanating in ever-increasing quantity. Its origin was his great love for God, which reflected itself in his embracing love for all mankind. It was through his love for God that he accomplished the greatest effort the human intellect can make: to investigate the cause of this most sublime emotion and shape it for the benefit of the entire world.


[page 24]

HIS EAGERNESS

Another of Shoghi Effendi's characteristics was his eagerness. As early as my first meeting with him, I became aware of this burning flame within his soul, for it was manifested in the emphasis of his speech, in the penetrating and searching gaze of his intelligent eyes, in the swiftness of his action and in the rewarding smile with which he recompensed those who acted promptly. The phrase so often repeated verbally and in his immortal messages, 'Time is short', reveals the pressing needs of humanity and his concern about the realization of God's plan on earth during the normal span of man's life. This phrase was addressed to every believer, without exception, spurring everyone to an eagerness similar to that which he possessed. I have no doubt that future historians of his life will identify and assemble all the threads of the incredible texture of deeds woven on the loom of intuition, wisdom and divine guidance, to show the world that during the selfless, steadfast and active life of Shoghi Effendi he accomplished what no ordinary man could accomplish in many more decades.


[page 25]

HIS PERSEVERANCE

Perseverance was one of Shoghi Effendi's most noble qualities, and taught me many a lesson. I learned much from him in pursuing and accomplishing any given task. It is part of human nature to give up when attempts fail at the beginning; only a few persist in an endeavour when beset with obstacles of all sorts. His instructions to me, always to go or appeal to the highest authorities, to seek always the best, to accomplish things in the shortest time possible, and to persevere under all circumstances, became my second nature while I was privileged to work for the Cause under his personal guidance. In nearly every letter I received from him over a period of many years, the word 'persevere' is repeated. It had the power of a talisman for me, because such an exhortation was undoubtedly seconded by his love, well-wishing and prayers. How could anyone fail when he, 'the Sign of God on earth', was himself spiritually linked with the recipient of such a message?

Were I to relate all the difficulties, some nearly insurmountable, that I met during the years of supervising production of the carved marble and other material needed to construct the Báb's Shrine and the International Archives, I should have to write at much greater length. In nearly every case I did not trouble the Guardian with these obstacles. Clad with the armour of perseverance, in the certainty that his prayers were following me, and that in God's ledger the assent had been granted, I knew that the impossible could be accomplished. And it was, thus bringing him infinite joy.

Had the friends the world over well understood his plight, and the meaning and power of that exhortation, much more would have been accomplished and every goal would have been fulfilled. Like 'Abdu'l-Bahá, he offered up his soul, his life and his possessions in the path of God, devoting every moment of activity during thirty-six years of his stewardship in order to bring forward, as early as possible, the knowledge of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation to all mankind. It was through his wisdom, initiative, directives, courage, example, dynamism and perseverance that, when his noble soul left this world on that fateful 4 November 1957, the map he had completed only the day before was able to record, like a graphic summary of his life's activities, the amazing development accomplished in less than five years - years which implemented and fulfilled all the activities of the previous thirty one years of his Guardianship. That map, as was the case with some previous ones, was drafted by his own hand, and embodied his analytic talent and geographical acumen. It will perpetuate throughout Bahá'í history the memory of his fruitful, precious and distinguished existence.


[page 26]

HIS GENEROSITY

The word generous is derived from the Latin (generosus) and signifies, literally, 'of noble birth' or 'magnanimous', but in its everyday usage it denotes liberality and munificence, both of which are qualities of magnanimity, or a regal character. Magnanimity and munificence ('great liberality') are virtues possessed by Shoghi Effendi. His greatness of mind and nobility of soul, his bearing and comportment, his apparent aloofness and reserve, which placed him in a lofty and intangible realm, were part of his birth-right and noble blood which went far back to the Sasaniyan dynasty of Persia (A.D. 226-651).[*] However, although his manners were reserved - an absolute condition for the prestige of his exalted rank - his heart was living, warm, pure, noble, tender and generous. The warmth and love that emanated from his innermost being were like a magnet that attracted and subjugated all who came close to him.

    * See Appendix IV.

[page 27]

To be generous is one of the greatest qualities man can possess. It is rare to find on this earth an individual as generous as was Shoghi Effendi. A man usually accumulates, during his lifetime, possessions that he rarely shares with others, because the criterion of giving for the joy of giving is a celestial virtue; it has not yet become man's second nature. The generosity of Shoghi Effendi was reflected in his everyday life, in his writings, in his conception of a better world, and in the power of inspiration and leadership which permeated through him into the world-wide affairs of the Cause. What a heavenly quality he possessed! He always considered the needs of others before even thinking of himself This was true not only for the spiritual wealth which was his greatest heritage, but also for material things as well, which he never sought, wanted or desired for himself. On that evening when he spoke to me alone, he mentioned that after the reading of the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, when he found himself appointed Guardian of the Cause of God, he told the assembled members of the whole family that he renounced, then and there, the ownership of any estate, possessions and chattels that would be his rightful inheritance. Looking back in retrospect and examining rapidly the events which took place from that fate-laden day in November 1921, to his passing in November 1957, we can readily understand and marvel at this act of true generosity

Many instances could be related, of which I was an eye-witness, when this flow of generosity was not only overwhelming but even electrified all those present, to the extent that they wanted to emulate him, forget themselves and offer their wealth, services and their lives, for his use in the Cause he loved so deeply. As already mentioned, Shoghi Effendi possessed the uncommon virtue of not coveting any earthly possession; all his wishes and desires were directed towards the enhancement and prestige of the Faith of which he was the Guardian.

Pilgrims to the World Centre came and went, and nearly every one brought him gifts upon which love, dedication and esteem were engraved in indelible letters. They varied from personal objects to valuable financial contributions. All were accepted by him with infinite grace and dignity but the personal objects were usually passed along to the local believers and the pilgrims, while the contributions were allocated to the various projects for propagation of the Faith in all parts of the world, or for embellishment of the Holy Places, or to help the needy. While practising the utmost economy in his personal expenditure (the simplicity of his wardrobe bearing witness to this), he would contribute large sums to worthy causes outside the pale of the Faith. I well remember going one day to Jerusalem, at his request, to present to the rector of the Hebrew University a sizable donation from Shoghi Effendi for the support of its activities.

Any plan he initiated for the development of the Cause was invariably supported by a substantial contribution to inaugurate its practical execution, and to encourage the Bahá'ís to do likewise and so assure its success. It would be impossible to enumerate the wide range and size of his contributions that supplied the vital lymph to hundreds of projects. As a random example, the following is cited from his message to the 1946 Convention in the United States, which inaugurated the Second Seven Year Plan

"Pledging ten thousand dollars as my initial contribution for the furtherance of the manifold purposes of a glorious crusade surpassing every enterprise undertaken by the followers of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh in the course of the first Bahá'í century." [4]

    [4] MA p.89

[page 28]

The reader may wish to peruse all of Shoghi Effendi's messages, to note how much he contributed to foster teaching plans, to establish endowments, to purchase national headquarters and Temple sites in every capital city throughout the world, to complete the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette and initiate construction of other Temples in Africa, Australia and Europe - and these are only part of the enterprises which were blessed by his generosity. It is impossible to forget the expression of true joy which illumined his dear face, and the shining light in his eyes, when suddenly, at the dinner-table in Haifa, he announced a new plan and the extent of his own financial support. This writer, personally, was the recipient of Shoghi Effendi's generosity - his spiritual guidance, his encouragement and praise, his unbounded gratitude for services rendered, expressed in kind, warm and loving words written by himself in several dozens of letters. These are positive testimonies of Shoghi Effendi's great liberality and consideration; and there are many thousands of believers who were beneficiaries of his munificence! Some mementoes given to the writer by Shoghi Effendi are being treasured as the living part of an indissoluble chain of love, esteem and unfading memories.

previous chapter chapter 2 start page single page chapter 4 next chapter
Back to:   Biographies Books Pilgrims' notes
Home Site Map Forum Links Copyright About Contact
.
. .