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Abstract:
Philosophical perspectives on the nature of purpose vs. chance, the fallacy of accidental divinity, inner and outer reality, the nature of ignorance, and the inevitability of universal peace.
Notes:
Presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #102, Bosch Bahá'í School: Santa Cruz, CA (May 18-22, 2011). Mirrored with permission from irfancolloquia.org/102/thomas_peace.

Overture to Universal Peace:
An exposition based on the talk by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, New York City, December 4, 1912

by James B. Thomas

2011
Abstract: A century ago the Bahá'í Faith "lit up the western sky" with a fresh new way of presenting spiritual proofs as articulated by 'Abdu'l-Bahá that began when He set forth upon the shores of the North American Continent. At the conclusion of His epic journey to America in 1912, He presented an address that touched on a series of subjects which clarified the challenges facing the new western believers in their efforts to acquire a deeper understanding of the verities set forth by the Founder of the Faith, Bahá'u'lláh. At the same time He coupled certain truths that would enable them to express more effectively the concepts and principles when teaching the new faith to an energetic, self willed, materialistic society. This would set the stage for the Tablets of the Divine Plan that would follow in a few short years which, in turn, would embrace completely, the American Bahá'ís under the tutelage of Shoghi Effendi as they fulfilled their destiny to help bring about universal peace on earth. Such a peace has perhaps been the most elusive among the great challenges facing the march of civilization since the dawn of human history. But, critical to this process would be the western believer's immersion in the study of Bahá'í tenants. Thus, the essential need of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's visit becomes apparent. What's more, the study of His talks given at that time provides us with a primary step toward that peace with all of its ramifications.

This paper will focus on elements of the talk given on the day before His return to Europe that seems to summarize the essence of the nine golden months that 'Abdu'l-Bahá was with us crossing the face of America. It deals with [1] the uninformed; [2] purpose versus chance; [3] the fallacy of accidental divinity; [4] inner and outer reality; [5] the dependence of human divine aspects upon the Son of Truth and; [6] a conclusion that confirms the inevitability of universal peace.

INTRODUCTION

A century ago the Bahá'í Faith "lit up the western sky" with a fresh new way of presenting spiritual proofs as articulated by 'Abdu'l-Bahá that began when He set forth upon the shores of the North American Continent. At the conclusion of His epic journey to America in 1912, He presented an address that touched on a series of subjects which clarified the challenges facing the new western believers in their efforts to acquire a deeper understanding of the verities set forth by the Founder of the Faith, Bahá'u'lláh. At the same time He coupled certain truths that would enable them to express more effectively the concepts and principles when teaching the new faith to an energetic, self willed, materialistic society. This would set the stage for the Tablets of the Divine Plan that would follow in a few short years which, in turn, would embrace completely, the American Bahá'ís under the tutelage of Shoghi Effendi as they fulfilled their destiny to help bring about universal peace on earth. Such a peace has perhaps been the most elusive among the great challenges facing the march of civilization since the dawn of human history. But, critical to this process would be the western believer's immersion in the study of Bahá'í tenants. Thus, the essential need of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's visit becomes apparent. What's more, the study of His talks given at that time provides us now, as it did then, with a primary step toward that peace with all of its ramifications. So it was in the autumn of His life when health and conditions permitted, He fulfilled a promise to the western believers with His visit to Europe and then to America. With great anticipation the new believers in the United States awaited Him and for nine golden months they would not be disappointed. An extraordinary series of meetings occurred across America with that most important of journeys, the visit of 'Abdul-Bahá to these shores, the significance of which can not be overestimated.

This paper will focus on elements of His aforementioned talk given on the day before His return to Europe that seems to emphasize the essence of the whole trip. These elements of study are [1], the uninformed, [2], purpose versus chance, [3], the fallacy of accidental divinity, [4] our inner and outer reality, [5] the dependence of human divine aspects upon the Son of Truth, followed by [6], a conclusion that affirms the inevitability of universal peace.

I: THE UNINFORMED

In this age of expanding knowledge and mega-communication one might ask as to why anyone could actually be uninformed. 'Abdul-Bahá points out that there are many folk who cling to the assumption that creation occurred six or seven thousand years ago. This is usually based on a literal interpretation of Old Testament scripture. This assumption further sparks the belief that before 'creation' there was nothing and, therefore, Divinity must be accidental. Almost a century after these comments were made the assumptions are still strong and relevant, whereas at the other extreme, due to the abundance of technological achievements and the bounty that they provide, there are many who believe that there is no real need for God in the first place. Thus, their argument might presume that the notion of divinity was perhaps just a temporary need on the part of people for some kind of assurance in primitive times. In other words, divinity may be seen merely as a convenience of happenstance and no longer valid as the naysayer might put it. However, 'Abdu'l-Bahá suggests that they are not thinking for themselves but instead rely on tradition as established by their fore bearers. "Of themselves they have no hearing, no sight, no reason…. Such persons imagine that the dominion of God is an accidental dominion, or Kingdom." (PUP 462) He further states that according to their view, divinity is dependent upon existing things whereas in reality as long as there has been a God there has been a creation.

The essential nature of their problem is that those "who are without perception of the inner truth of creation, who do not penetrate the real mysteries of material and spiritual phenomena and who possess only a superficial idea of universal life and being are but embodiments of pure ignorance." (PUP 462) This strong statement is supported by reference to Genesis wherein things were created in the first day. However, as 'Abdul-Bahá pointed out, the sun did not exist on the first day so how could we conceive of a day existing before the sun was created with its cycle. Thus, the statement should not be taken literally.

II. PURPOSE VERSUS CHANCE

For creation to be accidental or to appear by chance raises the question as to whether there is a creator of all that is. Earlier in His travel, 'Abdu'l-Bahá quoted His father:
Bahá'u'lláh says, "The universe hath neither beginning nor ending." He has set aside the elaborate theories and exhaustive opinions of scientists and material philosophers by the simple statement, "There is no beginning, no ending." The theologians and religionists advance plausible proofs that the creation of the universe dates back six thousand years; the scientists bring forth indisputable facts and say, "No! These evidences indicate ten, twenty, fifty thousand years ago," etc. There are endless discussions pro and con. Bahá'u'lláh sets aside these discussions by one word and statement. He says, "The divine sovereignty hath no beginning and no ending." By this announcement and its demonstration He has established a standard of agreement among those who reflect upon this question of divine sovereignty; He has brought reconciliation and peace in this war of opinion and discussion. (PUP 220)
The physical universe has certainly revealed a pattern of evolution very much in line with the above explanation. Scientists today admit to a lack of knowledge regarding any history that may have occurred before the "Big Bang" and are mystified as to what might have been. In other words, once the original creation took place, there followed one cycle after another, none of which were privy to any before or after. Thus Bahá'u'lláh's reference to no beginning and no end, yet each cycle is like a new creation. The question remains as to what the purpose of it all can be in this vast universe. A simply stated answer of Bahá'u'lláh's follows:
Having created the world and all that liveth and moveth therein, He, through the direct operation of His unconstrained and sovereign Will, chose to confer upon man the unique distinction and capacity to know Him and to love Him — a capacity that must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole of creation....(GWB 65)
That being so, we may wonder as to whether it is a bit egocentric to think that we, with such a rare bounty, are alone in this vast wilderness of galaxies. We needn't worry because long ago, Bahá'u'lláh said "Know thou that every fixed star hath its own planets, and every planet its own creatures, whose number no man can compute." (GWB 163) And the beloved Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, Shoghi Effendi, elaborated further:
Regarding the passage on p.163 of the 'Gleanings'; the creatures which Bahá'u'lláh states to be found in every planet cannot be considered to be necessarily similar or different from human beings on this earth. Bahá'u'lláh does not specifically state whether such creatures are like or unlike us. He simply refers to the fact that there are creatures in every planet. It remains for science to discover one day the exact nature of these creatures. (LG 478)
And lo, as we read and speak, such a period of discovery is upon us. Deep Space 1, a probe driven with ion propulsion, was launched in 1998 by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and though now retired, did initiate research that will, among other things, seek those very answers of which the Guardian speaks. In the first decade of the 21st century hundreds of planets have been discovered. First they were large and inhospitable but as sensitivity improved with advances of instrumentation, smaller and smaller planets have been identified. Considering the latest estimate of 200 billion galaxies in the universe[1] and each one containing billions of stars which in turn have numerous satellites, some with many moons large and small, it seems clear that life bearing planets might exist in great numbers. 'Abdu'l-Bahá had previously brought this into focus:
Briefly, there were many universal cycles preceding this one in which we are living. They were consummated, completed and their traces obliterated. The divine and creative purpose in them was the evolution of spiritual man, just as it is in this cycle. The circle of existence is the same circle; it returns. The tree of life has ever borne the same heavenly fruit. (PUP 220)

III. FALLACY OF ACCIDENTAL DIVINITY

For divinity to be accidental or to appear by chance raises an absurdity as delineated by 'Abdul-Bahá's reference:
As long as there has been light, there have been recipients of that light, for light cannot become manifest unless those things which perceive and appreciate it exist. The world of Divinity presupposes creation, presupposes recipients of bounty, presupposes the existence of worlds. No Divinity can be conceived as separate from creation, for otherwise it would be like imagining an empire without a people. A king must needs have a kingdom, must needs have an army and subjects. Is it possible to be a king and have no country, no army, no subjects? This is an absurdity. If we say that there was a time when there was no country, no army and no subjects, how then could there have been a king and ruler? For these things are essential to a king. (PUP 462)
In this light, creation is essential to a Creator. Although man was not present in the early stages of creation, he is never the less witness to evidence that remains from the ancient past within the current cycle. The recipient of the light that existed then must have therefore been the Creator, the originator of all that is — including the light itself. So Divinity can not be separated from creation. Moreover, 'Abdu'l-Bahá maintained that the attributes of God have always had expression, that He has always been a provider, a quickener and a bestower of bounties. As such, Divinity never had a beginning. (PUP 463)

In the commentaries thus far we have soared into the realm of cosmogony with the sole purpose of showing why divinity can not be accidental. Returning now to earth bound experience we may support the premise with a look to the sun as a near-by analogy of how divinity can't be separated from creation. For example, the sun is identified by its function, the propagation of light and heat. Without these phenomena there would not be a recognizable sun so near and dear to us, nor would life as we know it exist in our solar system. To acknowledge this as a possibility and then to imagine that later the sun would become radiant in all its glory would infer that it did so by chance. Thus to be a sun we can not delete the radiance that is associated with its physical characteristics. One can not exist without the other. 'Abdu'l-Bahá reframes this in a proper context:

To be brief: Our purpose is to show that the divine sovereignty, the Kingdom of God, is an ancient sovereignty, that it is not an accidental sovereignty, just as a kingdom presupposes the existence of subjects, of an army, of a country; for otherwise the state of dominion, authority and kingdom cannot be conceived of. (PUP463)
He concludes with the observation that we would be forced to admit that the Creator is accidental if we, at the same time assume that creation is accidental. He refers again to the sun and how its rays continuously shine rays of light just as the bounties of the creator continuously shine rays of truth. While there isn't any cessation possible to the rays of the sun there isn't any cessation possible to the shower of divine bounty.

IV. INNER AND OUTER REALITY

There are endless examples of this spiritual bounty that 'Abdu'l-Bahá speaks of, both in our daily lives and in the sweeping cascade of global events in our collective lives. It is all there for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. A prime example of this bounty is the steady stream of Divine Messengers that God sends to us in human form since long before recorded history. Bahá'u'lláh established the concept of progressive revelation as one of the basic principles of the Bahá'í Faith.
Its teachings revolve around the fundamental principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is progressive, not final. Unequivocally and without the least reservation it proclaims all established religions to be divine in origin, identical in their aims, complementary in their functions, continuous in their purpose, indispensable in their value to mankind. (WOB 58)
An early inkling of this idea is expressed in the promise that Moses made to His followers:
The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken… (Genesis 18:15)
A second depiction of progressive revelation can be found 1300 years later in the New Testament:
In that he saith, a new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13)
A third example is expressed by Christ when He promised that another Divine Messenger would follow Him in the fullness of time:
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. (John 16:13)
'Abdu'l-Bahá puts a question: "Why do these holy Manifestations of God appear?" To answer the question He will also address the wisdom and purpose of their appearances and the results of their missions. He begins by defining two opposing aspects of human personality: [1]we are created in the image and likeness of God yet [2] we also reveal the aspect of Satan. Thus humans stand between the extremes of divine repose and "satanic fancy." In this context, the process of thinking involves more than the physical aspects of bodily function for it involves another reality in order to achieve a form of internal consultation. That is, one might ask one's self if a certain task could be performed and if so done, what would be the consequence? Or contrarily, one might ask, for what reason should I not do this work if I do it? To refer to "I" reveals another identity apart from the questioner. That is, for one to question requires another to answer. For example one reality in man communicates its ideas to a second reality regarding its concerns. "Therefore, that reality in man is clearly and obviously other than his body — an ego with which man enters into consultation and whose opinion man seeks." (PUP 464)

Another way of saying it might indicate one who positively makes up their mind about doing something then thinks it over, in other words he consults his inner reality and concludes that he will do the opposite. Why did he do this? His inner reality realized a disadvantage of doing such a task and so returned to his original position. This illustrates a process that can even occur in dreams:

Again, for instance, a person is dead, is buried in the ground. Afterward, you see him in the world of dreams and speak with him, although his body is interred in the earth. Who is the person you see in your dreams, talk to and who also speaks with you? This again proves that there is another reality different from the physical one which dies and is buried. (PUP 465)
'Abdul-Bahá elaborates further that in man there is a reality, as revealed in a dream state or a conscious state, which is not the physical body. And although the body may become weak the other reality remains in its normal state. Physically one goes to sleep, becomes as one dead; but that other reality moves about, comprehends things, expresses them and even becomes self aware.

This inner reality is referred to as the heavenly body, one which corresponds to the physical body but in an ethereal form. The outer body does not discover anything whereas the inner reality consciously discovers the inner meaning of things. The mysteries of existence are grasped and discoveries are made. Arts, sciences and technical marvels are brought to bear upon the advancement of culture–things that animals are incapable of in their natural state. In as much as animals share the physical powers and limitations of man, they are bereft of that power that discovers the realities of existence. The inner reality of man not only penetrates and solves the mysteries of life but also is capable of discovering the heavenly Kingdom and is able to differentiate man from lower animal. However, when the animal proclivity in man predominates he may become worse than the brute. On the other hand, when he allows the heavenly powers to triumph he may become the noblest and most superior of beings. We are reminded that all of the imperfections of the animal are also found in man. "So to speak, the reality of man is clad in the outer garment of the animal, the habiliments of the world of nature, the world of darkness, imperfections and unlimited baseness." (PUP 465)

V. DEPENDANCE ON THE SON OF TRUTH

In contrast to the darkness, imperfections and unlimited baseness we have on one hand, we have on the other, man who is capable of justice, sincerity, faithfulness, knowledge, wisdom, illumination, mercy and pity, all in connection with the intellect, that is to say — comprehension, the power to grasp the realities of things and the ability to discover the truths of existence. Thus, we can see that man stands between light and darkness. "From this standpoint his nature is threefold: animal, human and divine. The animal nature is darkness; the heavenly is light in light." (PUP 465) At this point 'Abdu'l-Bahá is ready to answer the question as to why Divine Messengers of God appear:
The holy Manifestations of God come into the world to dispel the darkness of the animal, or physical, nature of man, to purify him from his imperfections in order that his heavenly and spiritual nature may become quickened, his divine qualities awakened, his perfections visible, his potential powers revealed and all the virtues of the world of humanity latent within him may come to life. (PUP 465)
The missions that these great Prophets fulfill are multifaceted regarding the course of human history and they have each made a profound and lasting impact on the progress of civilization. They are the ultimate educators and teachers in the world of humanity. Their role is to liberate man from the world of nature and all its darkness and to deliver him from ignorance, despair, imperfections, error and all qualities of evil import. This is an awesome task, for man is ignorant; they make him wise. Man is animalistic; they make him human. Man is savage and cruel; they lead him into kingdoms of light and love. Man is unjust; they cause him to become just. Man is selfish; they sever him from self and desire. Man is haughty; they make him humble and friendly. Man is earthly; they make him heavenly. Man is physical; they transform him into divine semblance. Man is immature; they develop him into maturity. Man is poor; they endow him with wealth. Man is base, treacherous and mean; they lift him into dignity, nobility and loftiness. (PUP 466) The consequence of their non appearance would be disturbing:
Were it not for the coming of these holy Manifestations of God, all mankind would be found on the plane of the animal. They would remain darkened and ignorant like those who have been denied schooling and who never had a teacher or trainer. Undoubtedly, such unfortunates will continue in their condition of need and deprivation. (PUP 466)
Civilization would cease to exist as we know it if such a condition mentioned above would prevail. Life at best would be a predator competitive condition of a purely physical nature while totally bereft of any spiritual wisdom, if these holy Manifestations of God were not to appear over the course of time.

A comparison is drawn between a wilderness of mountains, hills and plains under the rough rule of nature to a region of cultivation where the jungle has been transformed into a garden bearing fruit, flowers and crops with an ambiance of beauty. All of this requires the care of a gardener and cultivator. The point is made that "the holy Manifestations of God are the real gardeners of human souls, the divine cultivators of human hearts." This in a way defines their mission but the question remains as to what is involved in the "cultivation of human hearts." How do we know them to be who they say they are? Again the analogy of the sun is brought into play by comparing it to the vast array of scintillating stars that we know as the Milky Way that one may view on a clear night in all its brilliance. As impressive as it may be, the sun, by comparison is infinitely brighter than all those stars combined and that is how we would view a Divine Messenger as compared to all the people on earth. 'Abdul-Bahá points out their heavenly attributes and divine natures:

Similarly, these holy, divine Manifestations are and must always be distinguished above all other beings in every attribute of glory and perfection in order that it may be proven that the Manifestation is the true Teacher and real Trainer; that He is the Sun of Truth, endowed with a supreme splendor and reflecting the beauty of God. (PUP 467)
For one person to train another on matters of the soul, spirit and the world to come, then believe as a result of such training that the trainee would be qualified to be a holy manifestation of God is another absurdity because a real divine messenger has to be endowed with divine knowledge and can not be dependent upon any school for his wisdom for he is the teacher, the educator and he follows intuition instead of tuition. In this respect He is, as it were, the mouth piece of God on this earthly plain. (PUC 467) In Proofs of Bahá'u'lláh's Mission many proofs of validity are explicated regarding Divine Messengers and in particular they are exemplified with respect to Bahá'u'lláh. In support of the quote above, one of the proofs is that Manifestations of God have innate knowledge. Thus the power of a new revelation can not be measured by every day standards because new mysteries flow like glistening waterfalls from the mouth or pen of a Divine Messenger.
In a word, the holy, divine Manifestation of God must be distinguished above all others of mankind in every aspect and qualification in order that He may be able to train effectively the human body politic, eliminate the darkness enshrouding the human world, uplift humanity from a lower to a higher kingdom, be able through the penetrative power of His Word to promote and spread broadcast the beneficent message of universal peace among men, bring about the unification of mankind in religious belief through a manifest divine power, harmonize all sects and denominations and convert all native lands and nationalities into one native land and fatherland. (PUP 467)

VI. CONCLUSION

The first subject that 'Abdul-Bahá addressed on the occasion of His last full day in America He called "the uninformed." This would apply not only to those who were uninformed about the embryonic Bahá'í faith but to the followers of current religions as well. He expressed concern that so many people fall back on tradition of their fore bearers and in so doing avoid thinking for themselves. Many cling to the notion that divinity is based on existing things or even that God and his dominion are accidental. He states their problem as being that they are without perception of the inner truth of creation as, for example, the literal translation of the creation story. This issue then required resolution regarding the purpose of creation and the existence of God.

He begins with a reference to comments by Bahá'u'lláh regarding creation. He said the universe has neither beginning nor ending and by this single stroke dismissed the endless disagreements among theologians regarding the ages of things. However, for the layperson it is well to consider the comprehensive statement by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, based on his father's numerous writings, that the universe, regardless of its many cycles, has a purpose in each of those cycles to provide the stage for man to develop the capacity to know and love God. This is the primary purpose of the whole of creation. So there has always been a creation and there has always been the creator. He rephrases the obvious that creation needs a Creator and is therefore essential to Him. One can not be separated from the other, thus Divinity can't exist by chance, and it is not accidental. What's more, as indicated, we are not alone in the universe.

What is so crucial to understanding the destiny of man and his progress toward an ever advancing civilization is the knowledge of our inner and outer realities. To confuse one with the other leads to divergent pathways of misinformation for one is physical and the other is ethereal. Although they are interdependent they should not be confused in their essence. The inner reality penetrates and solves the mysteries of life and also discovers the heavenly kingdom. The outer reality does the work of the world that is necessary for the evolution of knowledge to take place. But this process is dependent upon the guidance and wisdom of a Divine Messenger of God. It is He whose mission it is to dispel the darkness of man's physical nature and to quicken the divine qualities of his inner nature. At the same time they must always be distinguished above all other beings in attributes of glory and perfection. The ultimate goal is to promote universal peace founded on unity in every aspect. In this regard, Bahá'u'lláh had made a promise: "…Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the 'Most Great Peace' shall come...." (POB viii)

Of the myriad presentations that 'Abdu'l-Bahá gave on His sojourn in America, there were among them 114 talks that comprise the Promulgation of Universal Peace, a book of 513 pages. They are lessons of extraordinary import culminating in His second to last talk which is the subject of this humble presentation. Further, they provided an irrepressible momentum of inspiration in the hearts of the western believers that continues to this day on an ever widening scale. This is truly an overture to the stages of growth to be orchestrated by Shoghi Effendi based on the tablets by 'Abdu'l-Bahá that would follow in the early years of the 20th century. The Faith has now reached the far corners of the world. The more that people embrace the resplendent concepts of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation the closer peace comes. We can see, in spite of conflicts between victims and their oppressors occurring now in the 99th year of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's epic journey to America, the light of justice is emerging while dictators continue to fall. It is now more evident each day that the promise made by Bahá'u'lláh will most assuredly come true.

Works cited

    'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982.
    Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, London, UK: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1949.
    Bahá'u'lláh, The Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, Haifa, Bahá'í World Centre: Copyright (c) 1967 by the Universal House of Justice, Copyright under the Berne Convention, All Rights Reserved
    Bahá'í Compilation, Lights of Guidance, New Delhi: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 2nd ed., 1988.
    King James Bible.
    Shoghi Effendi. The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1991.
Reference
    Geach, James E., "The Lost Galaxies," Scientific American volume 304 number 5 (May 2011): 46-53.
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