Talk Given by Abdu'l-Baha to Theosophists at Marseille
by Abdu'l-Bahápublished in Abdu'l-Bahá in France, 1911-1913, pages 247-254
date of original: 1911-12-06
Intro: In London and in Paris, the most intellectually challenging talks by Abdu'l-Bahá were given to the Theosophists. These two were the first times that he spelled out the Bahá'í principles. I was floored when I recently found that there was a third talk given to Theosophists just after he left Paris, in Marseille, on the 6th of December, 1911. It does not go through the principles, but it does refute materialist atheism and its misunderstanding of the nature of religion. It is a long talk, which I have put onto my Badi' Blog. It comes from a newspaper article (which makes it Bahá'í literature, not scripture) and is somewhat garbled in places, but nonetheless, this is one of the most interesting talks that I have seen from a philosophical point of view. [-John Taylor, 2021; notes adapted from a Facebook post]
6 December, 1911: Wednesday
'Abdu'l-Bahá gave a talk at the theosophist meeting. It is possible that this took place at 25, boulevard Baille in Marseille. A short note appeared in Le Lotus bleu: revue théosophique française. It stated that He spoke at the central theosophist centre on materialism. It further added 'that as was His style He spoke in a manner clear, simple and just'. Another article appeared in the Christian paper Le Chrétien which made further laudatory comments on the translations by Hippolyte Dreyfus and Henri Leblais.
The greatest of the blessings offered to humanity is divine Wisdom, and this Wisdom consists in knowing and analysing all that exists. The science that consists of discerning Truth has no reason for existence without this divine Wisdom. But there are two kinds of science: that which consists in knowing and that which consists in research. For example, we know that water exists, but the day in which we have tasted water, we have analyzed it and we have understood what it is. It is because of this that we say that complete science is not a question of imagination, but a question of experience.
Thus when a man is aware that a thing exists, this does not suffice, he must go beyond this even to the mystery of this thing, he must know the essence of it; we are aware for example that there is honey, but until we have analyzed and tasted it, we cannot say that we know it.
We have said that true science, divine Wisdom consists in knowing things, and it is for this that God has made of man the gathering together of the perfection of all the inferior existences. Thus in the world, we see that there are mineral, vegetable, animal kingdoms, and that man was created with the perfections of all of these kingdoms which permits him to attain the knowledge of all the things that they contain. For example, the mineral world is the perfection of corporal things, [and] in man there is a material body.
We see in the vegetable [kingdom] the force of growth, [and] it exists also in man.
The perfection of the animal kingdom consists in the sense faculties, which also exist in man. There is thus in man the reunion of all these mineral, vegetable and animal qualities. But in addition this reunion of qualities is favoured with a special power: the Spirit that renders man superior to all other creatures.
Hence man is the gathering, the synthesis of all existing perfections, and through the divine Spirit he is at the same time the possessor of divine perfections. All the qualities we attribute to God, we find them in man: we say, for example, that God sees, and the sign of this is found in the eyes of man. If we did not have eyes we could not comprehend what is vision.
Another of the perfections that we attribute to God, that is, that He hears, then we say that He lives, that He has a will, that He is powerful - these are divine perfections and all of them have their sign in man. Hence these perfections are the divine blessings and man is the veritable gathering of these perfections of the Creator and furthermore he receives the divine blessings by the Spirit.
This is what permits man to have dominion over all that exists. All creatures are prisoners of nature; for example, the sun, notwithstanding its greatness, is the prisoner of the laws of nature; the sea with all of its extent is prisoner of the laws of nature; it is thus for all that exists and nothing can escape the laws of nature, even to the thickness of a hair.
The sun will never quit its orbit, and the earth will never quit the path that was traced for it, but man can command nature.
The exigencies of nature cause that man is said to walk upon the earth, inasmuch as he can breathe only upon the earth. But man knows how to adapt the laws of nature. He builds aeroplanes and he flies in the air, he voyages on the sea, he even constructs submarines, even though this is outside of the exigencies imposed upon human nature.
Electricity, this force which is found widely in nature, man knows how to capture it, how to guide it and make it serve as his light in the lamp This is a force that no other being is able to control. Yet, according to the laws of nature, electricity is free, it is found everywhere, and man has known how to domesticate it contrary to natural exigencies. Thus he is not the slave of nature; he is superior to all the other beings and this derives from their being reunited in him the perfections of all that exists and [also] the special blessings of God.
How strange it is that the materialists do not understand this. They continually say that all beings are prisoners of nature and that no being can escape its laws. They do not see that man dominates nature and notwithstanding all of his marvellous inventions they continue to call him a prisoner.
Man is upon the earth and he makes discoveries in the sky. He displays in broad daylight the most hidden things among the mysteries of nature. Photography, wireless telegraphy and other inventions existed in potential but had remained undiscovered; man discovered them, and notwithstanding that the exigencies of nature would have caused these discoveries to remain forever unknown. The intelligence of man, which is the divine blessing, has forced nature to yield its secrets and it has transformed the world.
Hence, one cannot say that man is in the same condition as the other beings, which are prisoners of the laws of nature.
Even though the materialists see that nature is not intelligent and that it does not have the power of man, they revere it and consider it as God.
They say as their opening argument that all that exists emerges from the composition of the elements, and that the non-existence or death derive from the decomposition of these elements.
For example they say that a certain composition of elements produces a man, and that when these elements are disassociated the man dies. Then they say, as existence is in reality a composition of elements and death is a decomposition or a disassociation what is the need of having God intervene?
But their rationale is without foundation for, based on reasoning itself, the composition of elements cannot be due but to one of these three causes:
Either it is due to a simple chance.
Either it is due to the necessity in the life of atoms,
Or it is due to an exterior will and we arrive at God.
It is impossible for there to be a fourth cause.
If we say that it is due to chance, [we imply] that there exists a fact without cause, which is not admissible.
If we claim the second cause, the atoms combine in this or that fashion, in accordance with their necessity, then if there exists a necessity there should be no disassociation; for example, heat is a necessity of fire; humidity is a necessity of water; but we cannot disassociate heat from fire, humidity from water. If then the combinations were due to an an essential necessity, there would never be disassociation, for an essential necessity does not disassociate.
Hence this second cause is also erroneous.
It remains then that this combination of atoms is due to an exterior will and here we have arrived at God.
It is thus evident that things have a Creator and it is clear by means of these proofs derived from reason that the materialist theory is false. Human reason, even upon their own ground can convince them, this is as evident as the Sun, for human reason envelops all creatures.
The spirit of man contains all that exists which permits him to comprehend everything.
But this human power, which is that of the soul with the gift of reason, even though it is universal, has nonetheless its limits. See all the great philosophers of the past who have made discoveries through the power of reason, their influence has been very limited.
While the influence of the Holy Spirit is unlimited. Whatever may be the capacities that a man may possess in philosophy, whatever may be the degree of his reason, he always has need of the Divine Spirit. Consider Plato, Pythagoras, Euclid, all these great philosophers of Greek antiquity, their influence has been very restricted. Notwithstanding all of their knowledge, their philosophical capacities, they could not effect the inspiration of a single being with the spirit of sacrifice.
While other beings, ignorant ones, simple people, inspired by the Divine Spirit have conducted individuals to sacrifice their lives.
Consider a man like Peter, the Apostle; a simple ignorant fisherman, who did not even know how to count numbers: who was obliged to divide the catch from his fishing in seven in order to recall the Sabbath day; such a being, so simple, inspired by the Holy Spirit, see what influence he had upon the world.
I want to say that whatever may be the progress that a man has made in science, whatever may be his intellectual progress, he cannot dispense with turning towards the Holy Spirit; whatever may be his power, it is limited, it cannot arrive at being universal, whereas the prophets of God have set in motion the universal world, they have manifested an extraordinary power.
Consider Abraham, the son of a simple stonecutter, what influence He exercised in the world.
Moses was a simple shepherd; consider nonetheless what revolution He brought into the world.
Jesus was born of a poor family and witness His influence upon the thoughts, He manifested a very great power, His influence invaded the entire world.
Muhammad was but an ignorant one set in motion the world of thoughts, He transformed the Arabs to the highest extent.
In the same way the Báb had a considerable influence and see how Bahá'u'lláh knew how to transform thoughts.
You thus see that the real influence, in the world, appertains alone to those individuals who are assisted by the Holy Spirit. They renew the world. They give eternal life. They illumine the Orient and the Occident. Their influence is unlimited.
The world of spiritual thoughts was as if asleep; there remained, so to speak, no spirituality in the world; then Bahá'u'lláh appeared in Persia, and His presence alone, His mission set all thoughts in movement. He began by giving the Persians the feelings of spirituality. He enabled them to understand what divine Wisdom is and their thoughts, their words, their actions were transformed.
Hitherto in Persia, they were all prisoners of their dogmas and their rituals, and we see that all religions are at the same place. They have forgotten the reality in the divine religions, they no longer think of obeying the Spirit, they follow nothing but the letter.
A Jew whose father is a Jew, is Jewish simply by birth. If his father had been Christian or Buddhist he would have been Christian or Buddhist or even Zoroastrian. Thus without understanding what religion is, they follow only the rituals, they only follow the practices of the ancestors.
Bahá'u'lláh has come and said: “Do not follow traditions, follow your reason"559 and He has informed men that religion and science are one and that there is no reason to oppose the one to the other. A religion that would be contrary to science and to reason would not be a religion, it would be but a superstition, for science is the truth and religion cannot be opposed to science.
If religion was contrary to science, it could not be anything but error.
Religion must be a cause of love and union between men, it must unite the hearts and the souls. If religion was a cause of enmity, non-religion would be preferable to religion. Religion must result in unifying the human world and not in creating divisions. All true religion has the effect of immediately uniting all the sects. If a religion does not result in unification, it would be better if it did not exist. Religion must also be the means for the eradication of superstitions.
Otherwise it is not a religion. It must obey only Truth.
And as God has created all men with the same affection, and He is at peace with the whole world, that He is merciful towards everyone, we must follow God and no longer have superstitions. We must love all the beings upon the entire earth, we must be merciful towards all, we must abandon all our prejudices - religious, patriotic, racial, sectarian - for these prejudices are the cause of all the divisions that have caused blood to flow. It is these prejudices, which have caused women to weep at the death of their children, which have rendered so many children orphans, that have taken from elderly fathers their children.
It is these prejudices which have destroyed the kingdoms, which make of the world a hell. And if there were not all of these prejudices of homeland, of religion, of sect, of politics, humanity reconciled could live in the greatest happiness.
We must live by the example of God and we must follow the divine politics. For all of His creatures, God is light! Why are we in shadow? God loves all His servants! Why do we not love them?
He protects all of them! Why do we act differently?
If we want to follow the precepts of the Holy Spirit, we would be a cause of life for all. If we receive the blessings of the Sun of Reality, we will be light for all. If we receive the blessings from their true source, we will be merciful to all.
But this evening I am happy to be amongst you, and to have had the pleasure of meeting you; by the grace of God, your souls are brilliant, your hearts are pure and you understand the joyous news of God and you are the seekers of Truth. I ask of God that He aid and secure you; that in this centre you will become, bit by bit, beams that illumine the world, that disseminate the divine Wisdom, which will permit new discoveries. That you may be enveloped by the blessings of God and that France may become soon a celestial paradise.
That is my wish for you.
Dreyfus then commented:
"All the Theosophists applauded these words (so) full of life and of spirituality.”