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Recollections of Pilgrimage:
Nine Days with the Guardian in 1957

by Bill Washington

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Chapter 5

Pilgrimage in the earlier days

In those days there was no organised ‘pilgrimage program' as we have today. Each day's activities were directed by the Guardian, usually conveyed at the dinner table the previous evening when the Guardian would tell each pilgrim that on the following day they would do this or that. The Guardian encouraged each of the pilgrims to spend as much time as they wished visiting the Shrines, as these were, he said, the purpose and heart of our pilgrimage – an instruction that I am sure each of the pilgrims readily took to heart. But apart from that, we seemed to be free to participate in whatever was happening at the World Centre. I am sure the Guardian knew the needs of each one of us, and his suggestions to each individual were in line with what they spiritually needed at that time. But generally we were free to do as we wished.

I remember that one day was spent repainting the walls in a room of the Eastern Pilgrim house when I went with Rúhíyyih Khánum and Jessie Revell, with brush and can of whitewash in hand, to do some maintenance work. My clearest memory of that day was Rúhíyyih Khánum wielding the brush, clad in overalls, and her concern for a ‘resident' gecko that kept getting in the way of her brush and had to be caught and carefully placed on another wall for safety. Her concern for all living things was obvious.

Another day the pilgrims who were there were invited to attend the funeral of an old believers who lived in 'Akká, and I can recall being driven there by Leroy Ioas, in a large black American sedan (a Dodge or Buick, I'm not sure, but something like that – one of those large sedans from the 1950's) that had been provided for the Guardian, for more formal occasions, by an American pilgrim of some earlier time. In 'Akká we joined with a large group of resident Bahá'ís and others, and followed the coffin, walking through the narrow lanes and almost-covered alleyways of old 'Akká at a slow pace – obviously passing homes where the deceased was known, by the solemn greetings we received along the way, to the Bahá'í cemetery just beyond the walls of the old city of 'Akká, where the funeral ceremony was held. It was almost a full day but a very precious experience that gave me a much closer feeling of the city in which Bahá'u'lláh was imprisoned and spent a fair period of His life.

Another day was spent viewing the archives of the Faith. At that time the Archives building was still under construction, the work supervised by Mr Ioas who, understandably, declined to be photographed in his working overalls, as he said it was not really appropriate for a Hand of the Cause to be recorded for posterity in such a manner. I accepted his wishes, with regret, but later realised that one of the workmen on the roof of the building, in a photograph taken from a distance, was indeed Mr Ioas – but I had not been able to identify him at the time. And no one looking at the photo now would recognise him, so … The superstructure of the building was virtually completed and work was continuing on the roof; on one day the roof was seen to be partly black, as they laid insulation material; the next day it was partly green, as the tiles were being laid. Photos I have record these final stages. But the building was not yet fitted out inside nor occupied. In fact it was the purchase of internal fittings and furnishings for the Archives building that had taken the Guardian and Rúhíyyih Khánum to London later that same year, when the sun ceased to shine for all those who had known the beloved Guardian intimately – a sentiment that many of the Hands of the Cause expressed in the years that followed.

At that time the archives were stored in a couple of locations: items that formed what was known as the ‘major archives' were in the three additional rooms built by the Guardian on the back of the original shrine erected by ‘Abdu'l-Bahá as the resting place for the mortal remains of the Báb, now covered by the Shrine itself – these were archival items belonging to or relating to the Central Figures of the Faith; all other items were stored separately in a small stone building adjacent to the Monument Garden, near to the Tomb of the Greatest Holy Leaf.

Our inspection of the archives was made together with the Iranian pilgrims, which added quite an extra dimension to the experience, as many of the items which might have been of no special importance to a Bahá'í from the West had a special significant to the Iranians, and we were able to share in and gain a great deal from their reaction. The items were not on display, as such – there was little room for that – but more a storage of items from which Dr Hakim, who was showing us the archives, would extract some special item and speak about it – in Persian to the Iranian friends and breaking into English for us others.

Amongst so many items, perhaps the one that had the most impact on me was the copy of the Qur'an that the Báb had carried with him on pilgrimage to Mecca. For what reason, I do not know, but that had an immense impact on me, to think that this small book – a thing so personal – had been carried to Mecca by the Báb and used by Him, and was now here for us to see and touch. It brought the history of our Faith so very close. There were also the manuscripts of tablets: the Kitáb-i-Íqán in the handwriting of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá; some even in the hand of Bahá'u'lláh Himself, with the shaky script the background of which Dr Hakim explained for us; the original of the Persian Bayán, transcribed by the Báb's faithful amenuensis; the Arabic Hidden Words in Bahá'u'lláh's exquisite penmanship; and the tablets of the Báb to His Letters of the Living. The few brief decades between us and the time these Tablets were actually being revealed, and were being read by those for whom they were revealed, disappeared in a flash and we were brought so close to the actual time of their Revelation. We were also shown the small painting of the Báb and those of Bahá'u'lláh, also His photograph – perhaps the most precious of all the relics – but of these I have no clear memory at all; nothing more could register on a mind so full of wonders.

Of the many items in the ‘minor' archives the one I clearly remember was the sword used by Mullá Husayn at the defence of the Fort at Shaykh Tabarsi. The weight of the sword was obvious, and for this to have been wielded by a slight-built scholar, as I had always pictured Mullá Husayn, seemed incredible.

Another day I remember helping with the guiding at the Shrine of the Báb. The Shrine was open to the public from 9 in the morning until noon, and those living at the World Centre all shared in the task of guiding. And as we were welcomed as ‘one of the family' it was also made clear quite early on that we could also share in the work that needed to be done; we were not there for a holiday, and each pilgrim played some role in the work of the World Centre while they were there. I recall that Frank Wyss, on pilgrimage the previous year, had helped Rúhíyyih Khánum build a garden at the rear of the House of the Master, where she and the Guardian lived – and I took some photos of this to show Frank how the finished garden looked. So on a couple of mornings each of the pilgrims had the great privilege of taking visitors through the surrounding gardens and to the Shrine of the Báb.

One group of visitors I remember was a party of young soldiers – both boys and girls – most around my age (at that time) and some much younger, and a couple of older ones who seemed to be in charge. On entering the Shrine gardens, they piled their weapons against a fence alongside the Pilgrim House, each standing on its butt making an ‘Indian wigwam' – they were mostly heavy, automatic rifles, meant for serious business; Israel was then at war with the surrounding Arab states and we were reminded of this every day, though the spirit of the people was generally very light-hearted. I was amazed to see them leaving their firearms in this way: it demonstrated very clearly that they felt under no danger around the Shrine, it was safe to leave their weapons behind; it also showed a real trust in the Bahá'ís – we were people who could be trusted to watch over their precious firearms. It spoke much for the relationship the Guardian had established with the authorities and the people of Israel.

Walking down the pathway, they all visited the Shrine, taking off their boots to enter the Shrine, and all looked very subdued on the way out. Their work was ‘war'; the Shrine spoke to them of ‘peace' – it must have puzzled them, but they all seemed happy to have been there.

Another large group came one day – a bus load, typical of tourists in any land - and as they filed out of the Shrine, I could see the impact of it on their faces, quite different from when they had come. Many were wiping their eyes and they all looked very subdued. I took a photo of the group before they left – at their request, seeing the camera slung on my shoulder – and later sent a photo to an address they had given me.

Another time a middle-aged lady came; she seemed very interested and asked me many questions but our conversation was very limited as she spoke only Hebrew, of which I could understand not a word. Perhaps it was better that way, because we knew of the embargo on teaching the Faith in Israel, which had come down from the time of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, and the Guardian had followed His lead. And we understood the need for and the wisdom in this. The lady entered the Shrine with obvious reverence, while I waited outside by the door. When she came out the tears were streaming down her face; I did not know what she understood, but her feeling was obvious. The Shrine itself had touched her deeply, in some mysterious way.

Another day I spent some time helping Rúhíyyih Khánum load into the car some gifts that the friends had sent to the Guardian, mostly from Iran it seemed. Rúhíyyih Khánum told us that so many of the friends, pilgrims and others who were unable to come, sent gifts to the Guardian as an expression of their devotion. There were large silver platters, vases and other ornaments of craft work; many carpets were also sent as gifts and these the Guardian would place in one of the Shrines – they were already knee-deep in luxurious Persian rugs and carpets of considerable value. But the other gifts, they could not use; not only did they not fit the lifestyle of those at the World Centre but many of them were quite valuable, and the Faith needed money. For every new project he called for, the Guardian would add his own contribution – to kick-start some new fund or meet a need in an area where there were little funds available. This was the great need of the time, and the Guardian had no hesitation in selling these gifts. They had found a reputable dealer in Haifa who paid a fair price, and every few weeks or so Rúhíyyih Khánum would take a load of these to him. I understand the Guardian would later advise the donor of what he had done and where their gift had immeasurably assisted in the teaching work of the Cause.

Rúhíyyih Khánum also told us that the Guardian was extremely careful with the moneys he spent – on his own needs or those of the Faith. Every little expenditure would be recorded in a small book he kept – a record of how the funds of the Faith were spent. No item, however small, went unlisted. I recalled my father, who had originally opposed the idea of my spending so much on this ‘crazy' pilgrimage, had said just before I left, that he was happy that I was going. "You'll meet the chief and see who is raking off the profit in this religion." Indeed I did – such as the ‘profit' was. All I experienced on pilgrimage confirmed my deep feeling that this was a religion like no other.

Other days were spent wandering around and photographing the Shrine, the Archives building and the surrounding gardens. Of course, the gardens were very different then, and so much smaller. The gardens around the Shrine of the Báb were fully established but were confined by the upper roadway and the wall above the first downward terrace. It was interesting to learn that the terraces below the Shrine had actually be laid out and made by the Guardian but, because of the dangerous slope they were on and the difficulty of maintaining them in a safe condition, they had been allowed to deteriorate and were not open to the pilgrims. One recent pilgrim, a pioneer to Greenland whose arrival in Thule had been set in history by the Guardian in one of his Ridván messages, had wanted to climb to the Shrine from the roadway below and had actually made his ascent to the fence immediately beneath the Shrine gardens. Finding his way barred there by a securely locked gate, he was forced to retrace his steps down the mountain and forego his desire to ascend to the Shrine, as the kings of the future would, in humility before the One Who was the Forerunner of the Supreme Manifestation. He had been made quite despondent by this experience, feeling he was unworthy to approach the Shrine in this way, and in telling us the story Rúhíyyih Khánum said she had to plead with him not to take such things too seriously, nor to draw spiritual conclusions from some quite innocent physical occurrence.

Between the entrance gate at the main road and the Eastern Pilgrim House, along the crushed-tile pathway, was the cactus garden that Rúhíyyih Khánum had laid out and planted – a forerunner of gardens we may need to emulate in these days of little water – and across the main road, the Monument Garden where members of Bahá'u'lláh's family are buried – the Greatest Holy Leaf; the Purest Branch; His "consort in all the worlds" Navvab and the Holy Mother, Munírih Khánum - were embraced in well established gardens, which had been there since the 1940's. Above that, on the slope of the mountainside where the Seat of the House of Justice and other buildings are now established, was simply open garden, marked out by the pathway of the physical arc that the Guardian had laid out, leading from the entrance to the Archives building, across the steep slope of the mountain to the other side, where the Guardian had built up the natural slope of the mountain into the arc-shaped amphitheatre we know now. This garden was adorned by small figures of wrought iron eagles and urns on a low stone base, in the Italian style, brought together by paths and borders of drought resistant plants, geraniums and the like, and grass that had to be left dry in the rainless season, due to the shortage of water – even though the Guardian had established underground water cisterns to preserve as much of the rainwater as possible.

We were told that the far end of this arc, opposite the Archives building, had to be built up some 10 to 15 metres from the natural lay – to create the even arc that the Guardian wanted. On the mountainside in those days were a number of very mature olive trees, perhaps part of an old grove or perhaps growing naturally, that the Guardian dearly wanted to preserve. He consulted the gardening professionals and was told that it would be impossible to retain them with the up-building of soil the Guardian had planned; they would never survive. Undeterred, the Guardian clipped the trees back, choosing to leave one branch that rose the highest, built a circular wall of stone around the trunk, as the earth was brought in to raise the level of the mountainside, leaving only a few sprouting leaves above the new soil level. And despite the experts' advice, the trees not only survived but flourished. The mountainside was dotted with small but healthy olive trees that were actually the extreme top of the old trees that had been buried some 30 feet below. You don't tell the Guardian he can't do something!

High up on the mountainside, at the apex of the arc where the Seat of the House of Justice now stands, Fugita-san had his own little garden. Amongst the precious ‘archives' at the World Centre was the person of Saichiro Fugita. During the first decade of the 20th century, Fugita had gone to America, far away from his homeland of Japan, to seek better educational opportunities and through Mrs. Kathryn Frankland, who was then living in Oakland, California, in 1905 he became a Bahá'í, the second Japanese believer to declare. During ‘Abdu'l-Bahá's visit to America in 1912 Fugita, then living in Cleveland, Ohio, took the opportunity of one of His visits to Chicago to travel to that city in the hope of seeing him. Finding himself in a huge crowd gathered at the railway station to greet the Master and unable to see above their heads, Fugita climbed a conveniently placed lamp post in order to get a glimpse of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá. As the Master climbed into the car that was to take him to the home of Mrs Corinne True for a reception, He spotted Fugita on his high perch and called him to come down. Embracing him warmly, he invited Fugita to follow Him to Mrs True's home. As a result of this meeting, ‘Abdu'l-Bahá invited him to accompany their party to California and during that time Fugita expressed his great desire to devote the remainder of his life to serving Him. The Master accepted this offer and promised to send for him. The outbreak of war delayed this for some time, during which period he lived with Corinne True's family and was guided in his studies by frequent Tablets from ‘Abdu'l-Bahá,, who in 1919 called him to come to the Holy Land.

Except for one brief visit to his home in Japan during the 1930s, Fugita remained in the Holy Land, serving the Master and later Shoghi Effendi in many ways until in 1938, sensing the disruption of the coming world conflict, the Guardian sent him home to Japan for his own protection. With conditions settling after the war, Shoghi Effendi was able to arrange for his return to the Holy Land, with a party of pioneers coming from Japan on pilgrimage in 1955.

During my time there I saw much of Fugita-san, little realizing the connection that my life would make with Japan in later years. I remember once he asked me why Australian people did not like the Japanese, and I had to reassure him that this was not generally so, but the war had affected people in strange ways – and there was at least one person who really did like the Japanese, especially him. Your grandmother [Bill's wife Hiroko; see About these notes] also met him when she made the pilgrimage in 1975 – eighteen years on and that much older, he was missing his homeland so much that he really begged her to stay with him, just to be able to speak with someone in Japanese. He was a delightful person, full of humour and the joy of life. He had many talents: he had helped ‘Abdu'l-Bahá and later the Guardian with the installation and maintenance of much-needed electrical systems for the gardens, he maintained and drove the Master's automobile; worked in the gardens, assisting the Guardian with their designing with an artistry unique to the Japanese; he was a skilled chef, cooking for and serving the Master and later the Guardian, and the many pilgrims and other visiting dignitaries. I recall him serving the pilgrims at the Guardian's dinner table while I was there and can clearly picture him now – always there but unobtrusive. He knew what food the Guardian especially liked and I remember him once coming back a third time with the serving plate and waiting patiently beside the Guardian – it must have been one of the Guardian's favourite dishes. After a few moments, the Guardian took a little more, perhaps more to please Fugita-san, than because he was hungry. But I also remember that the Guardian seemed to have a good appetite and ate well, because the dinners were often prolonged, the Guardian giving the pilgrims ample opportunity to ask their questions and seek guidance. And then I recall since reading somewhere – it must have been in The Priceless Pearl – that this was the only proper meal the Guardian had each day.

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