THE RECONCILIATION OF RACES AND RELIGIONS
THOMAS KELLY CHEYNE, D. LITT., D. D.
FELLOW OF THE BRITISH ACADEMY, MEMBER OF THE NAVA VIDHAN (LAHORE), THE BAHAI COMMUNITY, ETC. RUHANI; PRIEST OF THE PRINCE OF PEACE
To my dear wife in whose poems are combined an ardent faith, an universal charity, and a simplicity of style which sometimes reminds me of the poet seer William Blake may she accept and enjoy the offering and may a like happiness be my lot when the little volume reaches the hands of the ambassador of peace.
The primary aim of this work is twofold. It would fain contribute to the cause of universal peace, and promote the better understanding of the various religions which really are but one religion. The union of religions must necessarily precede the union of races, which at present is so lamentably incomplete. It appears to me that none of the men or women of good-will is justified in withholding any suggestions which may have occurred to him. For the crisis, both political and religious, is alarming.
The question being ultimately a religious one, the author may be pardoned if he devotes most of his space to the most important of its religious aspects. He leaves it open to students of Christian politics to make known what is the actual state of things, and how this is to be remedied. He has, however, tried to help the reader by reprinting the very noble Manifesto of the Society of Friends, called forth by the declaration of war against Germany by England on the fourth day of August 1914.
In some respects I should have preferred a Manifesto representing the lofty views of the present Head of another Society of Friends—the Bahai Fraternity. Peace on earth has been the ideal of the Babis and Bahais since the Babs time, and Professor E. G. Browne has perpetuated Baha-'ullah's noble declaration of the imminent setting up of the kingdom of God, based upon universal peace. But there is such a thrilling actuality in the Manifesto of the Disciples of George Fox that I could not help availing myself of Mr. Isaac Sharp's kind permission to me to reprint it. It is indeed an opportune setting forth of the eternal riches, which will commend itself, now as never before, to those who can say, with the Grandfather in Tagore's poem, 'I am a jolly pilgrim to the land of losing everything.' The rulers of this world certainly do not cherish this ideal; but the imminent reconstruction of international relations will have to be founded upon it if we are not to sink back into the gulf of militarism.
I have endeavoured to study the various races and religions on their best side, and not to fetter myself to any individual teacher or party, for 'out of His fulness have all we received.' Max MŁller was hardly right in advising the Brahmists to call themselves Christians, and it is a pity that we so habitually speak of Buddhists and Mohammedans. I venture to remark that the favourite name of the Bahais among themselves is 'Friends.' The ordinary name Bahai comes from the divine name Baha, 'Glory (of God),' so that Abdu'l Baha means 'Servant of the Glory (of God).' One remembers the beautiful words of the Latin collect, 'Cui servire regnare est.'
Abdu'l Baha (when in Oxford) graciously gave me a 'new name.' [Footnote: Ruhani ('spiritual').] Evidently he thought that my work was not entirely done, and would have me be ever looking for help to the Spirit, whose 'strength is made perfect in weakness.' Since then he has written me a Tablet (letter), from which I quote the following lines:—
'O thou, my spiritual philosopher,
'Thy letter was received. In reality its contents were eloquent, for it was an evidence of thy literary fairness and of thy investigation of Reality.... There were many Doctors amongst the Jews, but they were all earthly, but St. Paul became heavenly because he could fly upwards. In his own time no one duly recognized him; nay, rather, he spent his days amidst difficulties and contempt. Afterwards it became known that he was not an earthly bird, he was a celestial one; he was not a natural philosopher, but a divine philosopher.
'It is likewise my hope that in the future the East and the West may become conscious that thou wert a divine philosopher and a herald to the Kingdom.'
I have no wish to write my autobiography, but may mention here that I sympathize largely with Vambťry, a letter from whom to Abdu'l Baha will be found farther on; though I should express my own adhesion to the Bahai leader in more glowing terms. Wishing to get nearer to a 'human-catholic' religion I have sought the privilege of simultaneous membership of several brotherhoods of Friends of God. It is my wish to show that both these and other homes of spiritual life are, when studied from the inside, essentially one, and that religions necessarily issue in racial and world-wide unity.
RUHANI. OXFORD, August 1914.
I. THE JEWELS OF THE FAITHS
II. BIOGRAPHICAL AND HISTORICAL
III. BIOGRAPHICAL AND HISTORICAL (continued)
IV. BIOGRAPHICAL AND HISTORICAL; AMBASSADOR TO HUMANITY
V. A SERIES OF ILLUSTRATIVE STUDIES BEARING ON COMPARATIVE RELIGION
TO MEN AND WOMEN OF GOODWILL IN THE BRITISH EMPIRE
A Message (reprinted by permission) from the Religious Society of Friends
We find ourselves to-day in the midst of what may prove to be the fiercest conflict in the history of the human race. Whatever may be our view of the processes which have led to its inception, we have now to face the fact that war is proceeding upon a terrific scale and that our own country is involved in it.
We recognize that our Government has made most strenuous efforts to preserve peace, and has entered into the war under a grave sense of duty to a smaller State, towards which we had moral and treaty obligations. While, as a Society, we stand firmly to the belief that the method of force is no solution of any question, we hold that the present moment is not one for criticism, but for devoted service to our nation.
What is to be the attitude of Christian men and women and of all who believe in the brotherhood of humanity? In the distress and perplexity of this new situation, many are so stunned as scarcely to be able to discern the path of duty. In the sight of God we should seek to get back to first principles, and to determine on a course of action which shall prove us to be worthy citizens of His Kingdom. In making this effort let us remember those groups of men and women, in all the other nations concerned, who will be animated by a similar spirit, and who believe with us that the fundamental unity of men in the family of God is the one enduring reality, even when we are forced into an apparent denial of it. Although it would be premature to make any pronouncement upon many aspects of the situation on which we have no sufficient data for a reliable judgment, we can, and do, call ourselves and you to a consideration of certain principles which may safely be enunciated.
1. The conditions which have made this catastrophe possible must be regarded by us as essentially unchristian. This war spells the bankruptcy of much that we too lightly call Christian. No nation, no Church, no individual can be wholly exonerated. We have all participated to some extent in these conditions. We have been content, or too little discontented, with them. If we apportion blame, let us not fail first to blame ourselves, and to seek the forgiveness of Almighty God.
2. In the hour of darkest night it is not for us to lose heart. Never was there greater need for men of faith. To many will come the temptation to deny God, and to turn away with despair from the Christianity which seems to be identified with bloodshed on so gigantic a scale. Christ is crucified afresh to-day. If some forsake Him and flee, let it be more clear that there are others who take their stand with Him, come what may.
3. This we may do by continuing to show the spirit of love to all. For those whose conscience forbids them to take up arms there are other ways of serving, and definite plans are already being made to enable them to take their full share in helping their country at this crisis. In pity and helpfulness towards the suffering and stricken in our own country we shall all share. If we stop at this, 'what do we more than others?' Our Master bids us pray for and love our enemies. May we be saved from forgetting that they too are the children of our Father. May we think of them with love and pity. May we banish thoughts of bitterness, harsh judgments, the revengeful spirit. To do this is in no sense unpatriotic. We may find ourselves the subjects of misunderstanding. But our duty is clear—to be courageous in the cause of love and in the hate of hate. May we prepare ourselves even now for the day when once more we shall stand shoulder to shoulder with those with whom we are now at war, in seeking to bring in the Kingdom of God.
4. It is not too soon to begin to think out the new situation which will arise at the close of the war. We are being compelled to face the fact that the human race has been guilty of a gigantic folly. We have built up a culture, a civilization, and even a religious life, surpassing in many respects that of any previous age, and we have been content to rest it all upon a foundation of sand. Such a state of society cannot endure so long as the last word in human affairs is brute force. Sooner or later it was bound to crumble. At the close of this war we shall be faced with a stupendous task of reconstruction. In some ways it will be rendered supremely difficult by the legacy of ill-will, by the destruction of human life, by the tax upon all in meeting the barest wants of the millions who will have suffered through the war. But in other ways it will be easier. We shall be able to make a new start, and to make it all together. From this point of view we may even see a ground of comfort in the fact that our own nation is involved. No country will be in a position which will compel others to struggle again to achieve the inflated standard of military power existing before the war. We shall have an opportunity of reconstructing European culture upon the only possible permanent foundation—mutual trust and good-will. Such a reconstruction would not only secure the future of European civilization, but would save the world from the threatened catastrophe of seeing the great nations of the East building their new social order also upon the sand, and thus turning the thought and wealth needed for their education and development into that which could only be a fetter to themselves and a menace to the West. Is it too much to hope for that we shall, when the time comes, be able as brethren together to lay down far-reaching principles for the future of mankind such as will ensure us for ever against a repetition of this gigantic folly? If this is to be accomplished it will need the united and persistent pressure of all who believe in such a future for mankind. There will still be multitudes who can see no good in the culture of other nations, and who are unable to believe in any genuine brotherhood among those of different races. Already those who think otherwise must begin to think and plan for such a future if the supreme opportunity of the final peace is not to be lost, and if we are to be saved from being again sucked down into the whirlpool of military aggrandizement and rivalry. In time of peace all the nations have been preparing for war. In the time of war let all men of good-will prepare for peace. The Christian conscience must be awakened to the magnitude of the issues. The great friendly democracies in each country must be ready to make their influence felt. Now is the time to speak of this thing, to work for it, to pray for it.
5. If this is to happen, it seems to us of vital importance that the war should not be carried on in any vindictive spirit, and that it should be brought to a close at the earliest possible moment. We should have it clearly before our minds from the beginning that we are not going into it in order to crush and humiliate any nation. The conduct of negotiations has taught us the necessity of prompt action in international affairs. Should the opportunity offer, we, in this nation, should be ready to act with promptitude in demanding that the terms suggested are of a kind which it will be possible for all parties to accept, and that the negotiations be entered upon in the right spirit.
6. We believe in God. Human free will gives us power to hinder the fulfilment of His loving purposes. It also means that we may actively co-operate with Him. If it is given to us to see something of a glorious possible future, after all the desolation and sorrow that lie before us, let us be sure that sight has been given us by Him. No day should close without our putting up our prayer to Him that He will lead His family into a new and better day. At a time when so severe a blow is being struck at the great causes of moral, social, and religious reform for which so many have struggled, we need to look with expectation and confidence to Him, whose cause they are, and find a fresh inspiration in the certainty of His victory.
August 7, 1914.
'In time of war let all men of good-will prepare for peace.' German, French, and English scholars and investigators have done much to show that the search for truth is one of the most powerful links between the different races and nations. It is absurd to speak—as many Germans do habitually speak—of 'deutsche Wissenschaft,' as if the glorious tree of scientific and historical knowledge were a purely German production. Many wars like that which closed at Sedan and that which is still, most unhappily, in progress will soon drive lovers of science and culture to the peaceful regions of North America!
The active pursuit of truth is, therefore, one of those things which make for peace. But can we say this of moral and religious truth? In this domain are we not compelled to be partisans and particularists? And has not liberal criticism shown that the religious traditions of all races and nations are to be relegated to the least cultured classes? That is the question to the treatment of which I (as a Christian student) offer some contributions in the present volume. But I would first of all express my hearty sympathy with the friends of God in the noble Russian Church, which has appointed the following prayer among others for use at the present crisis: [Footnote: Church Times, Sept. 4, 1914.]
'Deacon. Stretch forth Thine hand, O Lord, from on high, and touch the hearts of our enemies, that they may turn unto Thee, the God of peace Who lovest Thy creatures: and for Thy Name's sake strengthen us who put our trust in Thee by Thy might, we beseech Thee. Hear us and have mercy.'
Certainly it is hardness of heart which strikes us most painfully in our (we hope) temporary enemies. The only excuse is that in the Book which Christian nations agree to consider as in some sense and degree religiously authoritative, the establishment of the rule of the Most High is represented as coincident with extreme severities, or—as we might well say—cruelties. I do not, however, think that the excuse, if offered, would be valid. The Gospels must overbear any inconsistent statement of the Old Testament.
But the greatest utterances of human morality are to be found in the Buddhist Scriptures, and it is a shame to the European peoples that the Buddhist Indian king Asoka should be more Christian than the leaders of 'German culture.' I for my part love the old Germany far better than the new, and its high ideals would I hand on, filling up its omissions and correcting its errors. 'O house of Israel, come ye, let us walk in the light of the Lord.' Thou art 'the God of peace Who lovest Thy creatures.'
THE JEWELS OF THE FAITHS
A STUDY OF THE CHIEF RELIGIONS ON THEIR BEST SIDE WITH A VIEW TO THEIR EXPANSION AND ENRICHMENT AND TO AN ULTIMATE SYNTHESIS AND TO THE FINAL UNION OF RACES AND NATIONS ON A SPIRITUAL BASIS
The crisis in the Christian Church is now so acute that we may well seek for some mode of escape from its pressure. The Old Broad Church position is no longer adequate to English circumstances, and there is not yet in existence a thoroughly satisfactory new and original position for a Broad Church student to occupy. Shall we, then, desert the old historic Church in which we were christened and educated? It would certainly be a loss, and not only to ourselves. Or shall we wait with drooping head to be driven out of the Church? Such a cowardly solution may be at once dismissed. Happily we have in the Anglican Church virtually no excommunication. Our only course as students is to go forward, and endeavour to expand our too narrow Church boundaries. Modernists we are; modernists we will remain; let our only object be to be worthy of this noble name.
But we cannot be surprised that our Church rulers are perplexed. For consider the embarrassing state of critical investigation. Critical study of the Gospels has shown that very little of the traditional material can be regarded as historical; it is even very uncertain whether the Galilean prophet really paid the supreme penalty as a supposed enemy of Rome on the shameful cross. Even apart from the problem referred to, it is more than doubtful whether critics have left us enough stones standing in the life of Jesus to serve as the basis of a christology or doctrine of the divine Redeemer. And yet one feels that a theology without a theophany is both dry and difficult to defend. We want an avat‚r, i.e. a 'descent' of God in human form; indeed, we seem to need several such 'descents,' appropriate to the changing circumstances of the ages. Did not the author of the Fourth Gospel recognize this? Certainly his portrait of Jesus is so widely different from that of the Synoptists that a genuine reconciliation seems impossible. I would not infer from this that the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel belonged to a different age from the Jesus of the Synoptists, but I would venture to say that the Fourth Evangelist would be easier to defend if he held this theory. The Johannine Jesus ought to have belonged to a different aeon.
ANOTHER IMAGE OF GOD
Well, then, it is reasonable to turn for guidance and help to the East. There was living quite lately a human being of such consummate excellence that many think it is both permissible and inevitable even to identify him mystically with the invisible Godhead. Let us admit, such persons say, that Jesus was the very image of God. But he lived for his own age and his own people; the Jesus of the critics has but little to say, and no redemptive virtue issues from him to us. But the 'Blessed Perfection,' as Baha'ullah used to be called, lives for our age, and offers his spiritual feast to men of all peoples. His story, too, is liable to no diminution at the hands of the critics, simply because the facts of his life are certain. He has now passed from sight, but he is still in the ideal world, a true image of God and a true lover of man, and helps forward the reform of all those manifold abuses which hinder the firm establishment of the kingdom of God. I shall return to this presently. Meanwhile, suffice it to say that though I entertain the highest reverence and love for Baha'ullah's son, Abdul Baha, whom I regard as a Mahatma—'a great-souled one'—and look up to as one of the highest examples in the spiritual firmament, I hold no brief for the Bahai community, and can be as impartial in dealing with facts relating to the Bahais as with facts which happen to concern my own beloved mother-church, the Church of England.
I shall first of all ask, how it came to pass that so many of us are now seeking help and guidance from the East, some from India, some from Persia, some (which is my own case) from India and from Persia.
BAHA'ULLAH'S PRECURSORS, e.g. THE BAB, SUFISM, AND SHEYKH AHMAD
So far as Persia is concerned, the reason is that its religious experience has been no less varied than ancient. Zoroaster, Manes, Christ, Muhammad, Dh'u-Nun (the introducer of Sufism), Sheykh Ahmad (the forerunner of Babism), the Bab himself and Baha'ullah (the two Manifestations), have all left an ineffaceable mark on the national life. The Bab, it is true, again and again expresses his repugnance to the 'lies' of the Sufis, and the Babis are not behind him; but there are traces enough of the influence of Sufism on the new Prophet and his followers. The passion for martyrdom seems of itself to presuppose a tincture of Sufism, for it is the most extreme form of the passion for God, and to love God fervently but steadily in preference to all the pleasures of the phenomenal world, is characteristically Sufite.
What is it, then, in Sufism that excites the Bab's indignation? It is not the doctrine of the soul's oneness with God as the One Absolute Being, and the reality of the soul's ecstatic communion with Him. Several passages are quoted by Mons. Nicolas [Footnote: Beyan arabe, pp. 3-18.] on the attitude of the Bab towards Sufism; suffice it here to quote one of them.
'Others (i.e. those who claim, as being identified with God, to possess absolute truth) are known by the name of Sufis, and believe themselves to possess the internal sense of the Shari'at [Footnote: The orthodox Law of Islam, which many Muslims seek to allegorize.] when they are in ignorance alike of its apparent and of its inward meaning, and have fallen far, very far from it! One may perhaps say of them that those people who have no understanding have chosen the route which is entirely of darkness and of doubt.'
Ignorance, then, is, according to the Bab, the great fault of the Sufis [Footnote: Yet the title Sufi connotes knowledge. It means probably 'one who (like the Buddha on his statues) has a heavenly eye.' Prajnaparamita (Divine Wisdom) has the same third eye (Havell, Indian Sculpture and Painting, illustr. XLV.).] whom he censures, and we may gather that that ignorance was thought to be especially shown in a crude pantheism and a doctrine of incarnation which, according to the Bab, amounts to sheer polytheism. [Footnote 4: The technical term is 'association.'] God in Himself, says the Bab, cannot be known, though a reflected image of Him is attainable by taking heed to His manifestations or perfect portraitures.
Some variety of Sufism, however, sweetly and strongly permeates the teaching of the Bab. It is a Sufism which consists, not in affiliation to any Sufi order, but in the knowledge and love of the Source of the Eternal Ideals. Through detachment from this perishable world and earnest seeking for the Eternal, a glimpse of the unseen Reality can be attained. The form of this only true knowledge is subject to change; fresh 'mirrors' or 'portraits' are provided at the end of each recurring cosmic cycle or aeon. But the substance is unchanged and unchangeable. As Prof. Browne remarks, 'the prophet of a cycle is naught but a reflexion of the Primal Will,—the same sun with a new horizon.' [Footnote: NH, p. 335.]
Such a prophet was the Bab; we call him 'prophet' for want of a better name; 'yea, I say unto you, a prophet and more than a prophet.' His combination of mildness and power is so rare that we have to place him in a line with super-normal men. But he was also a great mystic and an eminent theosophic speculator. We learn that, at great points in his career, after he had been in an ecstasy, such radiance of might and majesty streamed from his countenance that none could bear to look upon the effulgence of his glory and beauty. Nor was it an uncommon occurrence for unbelievers involuntarily to bow down in lowly obeisance on beholding His Holiness; while the inmates of the castle, though for the most part Christians and Sunnis, reverently prostrated themselves whenever they saw the visage of His Holiness. [Footnote: NH, pp. 241, 242.] Such transfiguration is well known to the saints. It was regarded as the affixing of the heavenly seal to the reality and completeness of Bab's detachment. And from the Master we learn [Footnote: Mirza Jani (NH, p. 242).] that it passed to his disciples in proportion to the degree of their renunciation. But these experiences were surely characteristic, not only of Babism, but of Sufism. Ecstatic joy is the dominant note of Sufism, a joy which was of other-worldly origin, and compatible with the deepest tranquillity, and by which we are made like to the Ever-rejoicing One. The mystic poet Far'idu'd-din writes thus,—
Joy! joy! I triumph now; no more I know Myself as simply me. I burn with love. The centre is within me, and its wonder Lies as a circle everywhere about me. [a]
[Footnote a: Hughes, Dict. of Islam, p. 618 b.]
And of another celebrated Sufi Sheykh (Ibnu'l Far'id) his son writes as follows: 'When moved to ecstasy by listening [to devotional recitations and chants] his face would increase in beauty and radiance, while the perspiration dripped from all his body until it ran under his feet into the ground.' [Footnote: Browne, Literary History of Persia, ii. 503.]
EFFECT OF SUFISM
Sufism, however, which in the outset was a spiritual pantheism, combined with quietism, developed in a way that was by no means so satisfactory. The saintly mystic poet Abu Sa'id had defined it thus: 'To lay aside what thou hast in thy head (desires and ambitions), and to give away what thou hast in thy hand, and not to flinch from whatever befalls thee.' [Footnote: Ibid. ii. 208.] This is, of course, not intended as a complete description, but shows that the spirit of the earlier Sufism was profoundly ethical. Count Gobineau, however, assures us that the Sufism which he knew was both enervating and immoral. Certainly the later Sufi poets were inclined to overpress symbolism, and the luscious sweetness of the poetry may have been unwholesome for some—both for poets and for readers. Still I question whether, for properly trained readers, this evil result should follow. The doctrine of the impermanence of all that is not God and that love between two human hearts is but a type of the love between God and His human creatures, and that the supreme happiness is that of identification with God, has never been more alluringly expressed than by the Sufi poets.
The Sufis, then, are true forerunners of the Bab and his successors. There are also two men, Muslims but no Sufis, who have a claim to the same title. But I must first of all do honour to an Indian Sufi.
The message of this noble company has been lately brought to the West. [Footnote: Message Soufi de la Libertť Spirituelle (Paris, 1913).] The bearer, who is in the fulness of youthful strength, is Inayat Khan, a member of the Sufi Order, a practised speaker, and also devoted to the traditional sacred music of India. His own teacher on his death-bed gave him this affecting charge: 'Goest thou abroad into the world, harmonize the East and the West with thy music; spread the knowledge of Sufism, for thou art gifted by Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate.' So, then, Vivekananda, Abdu'l Baha, and Inayat Khan, not to mention here several Buddhist monks, are all missionaries of Eastern religious culture to Western, and two of these specially represent Persia. We cannot do otherwise than thank God for the concordant voice of Bahaite and Sufite. Both announce the Evangel of the essential oneness of humanity which will one day—and sooner than non-religious politicians expect—be translated into fact, and, as the first step towards this 'desire of all nations,' they embrace every opportunity of teaching the essential unity of religions:
Pagodas, just as mosques, are homes of prayer, 'Tis prayer that church-bells chime unto the air; Yea, Church and Ka'ba, Rosary and Cross, Are all but divers tongues of world-wide prayer. [a]
[Footnote a: Whinfield's translation of the quatrains of Omar KhayyŠm, No. 22 (34).]
So writes a poet (Omar KhayyŠm) whom Inayat Khan claims as a Sufi, and who at any rate seems to have had Sufi intervals. Unmixed spiritual prayer may indeed be uncommon, but we may hope that prayer with no spiritual elements at all is still more rare. It is the object of prophets to awaken the consciousness of the people to its spiritual needs. Of this class of men Inayat Khan speaks thus,—
'The prophetic mission was to bring into the world the Divine Wisdom, to apportion it to the world according to that world's comprehension, to adapt it to its degree of mental evolution as well as to dissimilar countries and periods. It is by this adaptability that the many religions which have emanated from the same moral principle differ the one from the other, and it is by this that they exist. In fact, each prophet had for his mission to prepare the world for the teaching of the prophet who was to succeed him, and each of them foretold the coming of his successor down to Mahomet, the last messenger of the divine Wisdom, and as it were the look-out point in which all the prophetic cycle was centred. For Mahomet resumed the divine Wisdom in this proclamation, "Nothing exists, God alone is,"—the final message whither the whole line of the prophets tended, and where the boundaries of religions and philosophies took their start. With this message prophetic interventions are henceforth useless.
'The Sufi has no prejudice against any prophet, and, contrary to those who only love one to hate the other, the Sufi regards them all as the highest attribute of God, as Wisdom herself, present under the appearance of names and forms. He loves them with all his worship, for the lover worships the Beloved in all Her garments.... It is thus that the Sufis contemplate their Well-beloved, Divine Wisdom, in all her robes, in her different ages, and under all the names that she bears,—Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mahomet.' [Footnote: Message Soufi de la Libertť (Paris, 1913), pp. 34, 35.]
The idea of the equality of the members of the world-wide prophethood, the whole body of prophets being the unique personality of Divine Wisdom, is, in my judgment, far superior to the corresponding theory of the exclusive Muhammadan orthodoxy. That theory is that each prophet represents an advance on his predecessor, whom he therefore supersedes. Now, that Muhammad as a prophet was well adapted to the Arabians, I should be most unwilling to deny. I am also heartily of opinion that a Christian may well strengthen his own faith by the example of the fervour of many of the Muslims. But to say that the Kur'an is superior to either the Old Testament or the New is, surely, an error, only excusable on the ground of ignorance. It is true, neither of Judaism nor of Christianity were the representatives in Muhammad's time such as we should have desired; ignorance on Muhammad's part was unavoidable. But unavoidable also was the anti-Islamic reaction, as represented especially by the Order of the Sufis. One may hope that both action and reaction may one day become unnecessary. That will depend largely on the Bahais.
It is time, however, to pass on to those precursors of Babism who were neither Sufites nor Zoroastrians, but who none the less continued the line of the national religious development. The majority of Persians were Shi'ites; they regarded Ali and the 'Imams' as virtually divine manifestations. This at least was their point of union; otherwise they fell into two great divisions, known as the 'Sect of the Seven' and the 'Sect of the Twelve' respectively. Mirza Ali Muhammad belonged by birth to the latter, which now forms the State-religion of Persia, but there are several points in his doctrine which he held in common with the former (i.e. the Ishma'ilis). These are—'the successive incarnations of the Universal Reason, the allegorical interpretation of Scripture, and the symbolism of every ritual form and every natural phenomenon. [Footnote: NH, introd. p. xiii.] The doctrine of the impermanence of all that is not God, and that love between two human hearts is but a type of the love between God and his human creatures, and the bliss of self-annihilation, had long been inculcated in the most winning manner by the Sufis.
Yet they were no Sufis, but precursors of Babism in a more thorough and special sense, and both were Muslims. The first was Sheykh Ahmad of Ahsa, in the province of Bahrein. He knew full well that he was chosen of God to prepare men's hearts for the reception of the more complete truth shortly to be revealed, and that through him the way of access to the hidden twelfth Imam Mahdi was reopened. But he did not set this forth in clear and unmistakable terms, lest 'the unregenerate' should turn again and rend him. According to a Shi'ite authority he paid two visits to Persia, in one of which he was in high favour with the Court, and received as a yearly subsidy from the Shah's son the sum of 700 tumans, and in the other, owing chiefly to a malicious colleague, his theological doctrines brought him into much disrepute. Yet he lived as a pious Muslim, and died in the odour of sanctity, as a pilgrim to Mecca. [Footnote: See AMB (Nicolas), pp. 264-272; NH, pp. 235, 236.]
One of his opponents (Mulla 'Ali) said of him that he was 'an ignorant man with a pure heart.' Well, ignorant we dare not call him, except with a big qualification, for his aim required great knowledge; it was nothing less than the reconciliation of all truth, both metaphysical and scientific. Now he had certainly taken much trouble about truth, and had written many books on philosophy and the sciences as understood in Islamic countries. We can only qualify our eulogy by admitting that he was unaware of the limitations of human nature, and of the weakness of Persian science. Pure in heart, however, he was; no qualification is needed here, except it be one which Mulla 'Ali would not have regarded as requiring any excuse. For purity he (like many others) understood in a large sense. It was the reward of courageous 'buffeting' and enslaving of the body; he was an austere ascetic.
He had a special devotion to Ja'far-i-Sadik, [Footnote: TN, p. 297.] the sixth Imam, whose guidance he believed himself to enjoy in dreams, and whose words he delighted to quote. Of course, 'Ali was the director of the council of the Imams, but the councillors were not much less, and were equally faithful as mirrors of the Supreme. This remains true, even if 'Ali be regarded as himself the Supreme God [Footnote: The Sheykh certainly tended in the direction of the sect of the 'Ali-Ilabis (NH, p. 142; Kremer, Herrschende Ideen des Islams, p. 31), who belonged to the ghulat or extreme Shi'ites (Browne, Lit. Hist. of Persia, p. 310).] identical with Allah or with the Ormazd (Ahura-Mazda) of the Zoroastrians. For the twelve Imams were all of the rank of divinities. Not that they were 'partners' with God; they were simply manifestations of the Invisible God. But they were utterly veracious Manifestations; in speaking of Allah (as the Sheykh taught) wer may venture to intend 'Ali. [Footnote: The Sheykh held that in reciting the opening sura of the Kur'an the worshipper should think of 'Ali, should intend 'Ali, as his God.]
This explains how the Sheykh can have taught that the Imams took part in creation and are agents in the government of the world. In support of this he quoted Kur'an, Sur. xxiii. 14, 'God the best of Creators,' and, had he been a broader and more scientific theologian, might have mentioned how the Amshaspands (Ameshaspentas) are grouped with Ormazd in the creation-story of Zoroastrianism, and how, in that of Gen. i., the Director of the Heavenly Council says, 'Let us make man.' [Footnote: Genesis i. 22.]
The Sheykh also believed strongly in the existence of a subtle body which survives the dissolution of the palpable, material body, [Footnote: TN, p. 236.] and will alone be visible at the Resurrection. Nothing almost gave more offence than this; it seemed to be only a few degrees better than the absolute denial of the resurrection-body ventured upon by the Akhbaris. [Footnote: Gobineau, pp. 39, 40.] And yet the notion of a subtle, internal body, a notion which is Indian as well as Persian, has been felt even by many Westerns to be for them the only way to reconcile reason and faith.
On Ahmad's death the unanimous choice of the members of the school fell on Seyyid (Sayyid) Kazim of Resht, who had been already nominated by the Sheykh. He pursued the same course as his predecessor, and attracted many inquirers and disciples. Among the latter was the lady Kurratu'l 'Ayn, born in a town where the Sheykhi sect was strong, and of a family accustomed to religious controversy. He was not fifty when he died, but his career was a distinguished one. Himself a Gate, he discerned the successor by whom he was to be overshadowed, and he was the teacher of the famous lady referred to. To what extent 'Ali Muhammad (the subsequent Bab) was instructed by him is uncertain. It was long enough no doubt to make him a Sheykhite and to justify 'Ali Muhammad in his own eyes for raising Sheykh Ahmad and the Seyyid Kazim to the dignity of Bab. [Footnote: AMB, pp. 91, 95; cp. NH, p. 342.]
There seems to be conclusive evidence that Seyyid Kazim adverted often near the close of life to the divine Manifestation which he believed to be at hand. He was fond of saying, 'I see him as the rising sun.' He was also wont to declare that the 'Proof' would be a youth of the race of Hashim, i.e. a kinsman of Muhammad, untaught in the learning of men. Of a dream which he heard from an Arab (when in Turkish Arabia), he said, 'This dream signifies that my departure from the world is near at hand'; and when his friends wept at this, he remonstrated with them, saying, 'Why are ye troubled in mind? Desire ye not that I should depart, and that the truth [in person] should appear?' [Footnote: NH, p. 31.]
I leave it an open question whether Seyyid Kazim had actually fixed on the person who was to be his successor, and to reflect the Supreme Wisdom far more brilliantly than himself. But there is no reason to doubt that he regarded his own life and labours as transitional, and it is possible that by the rising sun of which he loved to speak he meant that strange youth of Shiraz who had been an irregular attendant at his lectures. Very different, it is true, is the Muhammadan legend. It states that 'Ali Muhammad was present at Karbala from the death of the Master, that he came to an understanding with members of the school, and that after starting certain miracle-stories, all of them proceeded to Mecca, to fulfil the predictions which connected the Prophet-Messiah with that Holy City, where, with bared sabre, he would summon the peoples to the true God.
This will, I hope, suffice to convince the reader that both the Sufi Order and the Sheykhite Sect were true forerunners of Babism and Bahaism. He will also readily admit that, for the Sufis especially, the connexion with a church of so weak a historic sense was most unfortunate. It would be the best for all parties if Muslims both within and without the Sufi Order accepted a second home in a church (that of Abha) whose historical credentials are unexceptionable, retaining membership of the old home, so as to be able to reform from within, but superadding membership of the new. Whether this is possible on a large scale, the future must determine. It will not be possible if those who combine the old home with a new one become themselves thereby liable to persecution. It will not even be desirable unless the new-comers bring with them doctrinal (I do not say dogmatic) contributions to the common stock of Bahai truths—contributions of those things for which alone in their hearts the immigrant Muslim brothers infinitely care.
It will be asked, What are, to a Muslim, and especially to a Shi'ite Muslim, infinitely precious things? I will try to answer this question. First of all, in time of trouble, the Muslim certainly values as a 'pearl of great price' the Mercifulness and Compassion of God. Those who believingly read the Kur'an or recite the opening prayer, and above all, those who pass through deep waters, cannot do otherwise. No doubt the strict justice of God, corresponding to and limited by His compassion, is also a true jewel. We may admit that the judicial severity of Allah has received rather too much stress; still there must be occasions on which, from earthly caricatures of justice pious Muslims flee for refuge in their thoughts to the One Just Judge. Indeed, the great final Judgment is, to a good Muslim, a much stronger incentive to holiness than the sensuous descriptions of Paradise, which indeed he will probably interpret symbolically.
The true Muslim will be charitable even to the lower animals. [Footnote: Nicholson, The Mystics of Islam, p. 108.] Neither poor-law nor Society for the Protection of Animals is required in Muslim countries. How soon organizations arose for the care of the sick, and, in war-time, of the wounded, it would be difficult to say; for Buddhists and Hindus were of course earlier in the field than Muslims, inheriting as they did an older moral culture. In the Muslim world, however, the twelfth century saw the rise of the Kadirite Order, with its philanthropic procedure. [Footnote: D. S. Margoliouth, Mohammedanism, pp. 211-212.] Into the ideal of man, as conceived by our Muslim brothers, there must therefore enter the feature of mercifulness. We cannot help sympathizing with this, even though we think Abdul Baha's ideal richer and nobler than any as yet conceived by any Muslim saint.
There is also the idea—the realized idea—of brotherhood, a brotherhood which is simply an extension of the equality of Arabian tribesmen. There is no caste in Islam; each believer stands in the same relation to the Divine Sovereign. There may be poor, but it is the rich man's merit to relieve them. There may be slaves, but slaves and masters are religiously one, and though there are exceptions to the general kindliness of masters and mistresses, it is in East Africa that these lamentable inconsistencies are mostly found. The Muslim brothers who may join the Bahais will not find it hard to shake off their moral weaknesses, and own themselves brothers of their servants. Are we not all (they will say) sons of Adam? Lastly, there is the character of Muhammad. Perfect he was not, but Baha'ullah was hardly quite fair to Muhammad when (if we may trust a tradition) he referred to the Arabian prophet as a camel-driver. It is a most inadequate description. He had a 'rare beauty and sweetness of nature' to which he joined a 'social and political genius' and 'towering manhood.' [Footnote: Sister Nivedita, The Web of Indian Life, pp. 242, 243.]
These are the chief contributions which Muslim friends and lovers will be able to make; these, the beliefs which we shall hold more firmly through our brothers' faith. Will Muslims accept as well as proffer gifts? Speaking of a Southern Morocco Christian mission, S. L. Bensusan admits that it does not make Christians out of Moors, but claims that it 'teaches the Moors to live finer lives within the limits of their own faith.' [Footnote: Morocco (A. & C. Black), p. 164.]
I should like to say something here about the sweetness of Muhammad. It appears not only in his love for his first wife and benefactress, Khadijah, but in his affection for his daughter, Fatima. This affection has passed over to the Muslims, who call her very beautifully 'the Salutation of all Muslims.' The Babis affirm that Fatima returned to life in their own great heroine.
There is yet another form of religion that I must not neglect—the Zoroastrian or Parsi faith. Far as this faith may have travelled from its original spirituality, it still preserved in the Bab's time some elements of truth which were bound to become a beneficial leaven. This high and holy faith (as represented in the Gathas) was still the religion of the splendour or glory of God, still the champion of the Good Principle against the Evil. As if to show his respectful sympathy for an ancient and persecuted religion the Bab borrowed some minor points of detail from his Parsi neighbours. Not on these, however, would I venture to lay any great stress, but rather on the doctrines and beliefs in which a Parsi connexion may plausibly be held. For instance, how can we help tracing a parallel between 'Ali and the Imams on the one hand and Ahura-Mazda (Ormazd) and his council of Amshaspands (Amesha-spentas) on the other? The founders of both religions conceived it to be implied in the doctrine of the Divine Omnipresence that God should be represented in every place by His celestial councillors, who would counteract the machinations of the Evil Ones. For Evil Ones there are; so at least Islam holds. Their efforts are foredoomed to failure, because their kingdom has no unity or cohesion. But strange mystic potencies they have, as all pious Muslims think, and we must remember that 'Ali Muhammad (the Bab) was bred up in the faith of Islam.
Well, then, we can now proceed further and say that our Parsi friends can offer us gifts worth the having. When they rise in the morning they know that they have a great warfare to wage, and that they are not alone, but have heavenly helpers. This form of representation is not indeed the only one, but who shall say that we can dispense with it? Even if evil be but the shadow of good, a Maya, an appearance, yet must we not act as if it had a real existence, and combat it with all our might?
May we also venture to include Buddhism among the religions which may directly or indirectly have prepared the way for Bahaism? We may; the evidence is as follows. Manes, or Mani, the founder of the widely-spread sect of the Manichaeans, who lived in the third century of our era, writes thus in the opening of one of his books,— [Footnote: Literary History of Persia, i. 103.]
'Wisdom and deeds have always from time to time been brought to mankind by the messengers of God. So in one age they have been brought by the messenger of God called Buddha to India, in another by Zoroaster to Persia, in another by Jesus to the West. Thereafter this revelation has come down, this prophecy in this last age, through me, Mani, the Messenger of the God of Truth to Babylonia' ('Irak).
This is valid evidence for at least the period before that of Mani. We have also adequate proofs of the continued existence of Buddhism in Persia in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries; indeed, we may even assert this for Bactria and E. Persia with reference to nearly 1000 years before the Muhammadan conquest. [Footnote: R. A. Nicholson, The Mystics, p. 18. Cp. E. G. Browne, Lit. Hist. of Persia, ii. 440 ff.]
Buddhism, then, battled for leave to do the world good in its own way, though the intolerance of Islam too soon effaced its footprints. There is still some chance, however, that Sufism may be a record of its activity; in fact, this great religious upgrowth may be of Indian rather than of Neoplatonic origin, so that the only question is whether Sufism developed out of the Vedanta or out of the religious philosophy of Buddhism. That, however, is too complex a question to be discussed here.
All honour to Buddhism for its noble effort. In some undiscoverable way Buddhists acted as pioneers for the destined Deliverer. Let us, then, consider what precious spiritual jewels its sons and daughters can bring to the new Fraternity. There are many most inadequate statements about Buddhism. Personally, I wish that such expressions as 'the cold metaphysic of Buddhism' might be abandoned; surely metaphysicians, too, have religious needs and may have warm hearts. At the same time I will not deny that I prefer the northern variety of Buddhism, because I seem to myself to detect in the southern Buddhism a touch of a highly-refined egoism. Self-culture may or may not be combined with self-sacrifice. In the case of the Buddha it was no doubt so combined, as the following passage, indited by him, shows—
'All the means that can be used as bases for doing right are not worth one sixteenth part of the emancipation of the heart through love. That takes all those up into itself, outshining them in radiance and in glory.' [Footnote: Mrs. Rhys Davids, Buddhism, p. 229.]
What, then, are the jewels of the Buddhist which he would fain see in the world's spiritual treasury?
He will tell you that he has many jewels, but that three of them stand out conspicuously—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Of these the first is 'Sakya Muni, called the Buddha (the Awakened One).' His life is full of legend and mythology, but how it takes hold of the reader! Must we not pronounce it the finest of religious narratives, and thank the scholars who made the Lalita Vistara known to us? The Buddha was indeed a supernormal man; morally and physically he must have had singular gifts. To an extraordinary intellect he joined the enthusiasm of love, and a thirst for service.
The second of the Buddhist brother's jewels is the Dharma, i.e. the Law or Essential Rightness revealed by the Buddha. That the Master laid a firm practical foundation for his religion cannot be denied, and if Jews and Christians reverence the Ten Words given through 'Moses,' much more may Buddhists reverence the ten moral precepts of Sakya Muni. Those, however, whose aim is Buddhaship (i.e. those who propose to themselves the more richly developed ideal of northern Buddhists) claim the right to modify those precepts just as Jesus modified the Law of Moses. While, therefore, we recognize that good has sometimes come even out of evil, we should also acknowledge the superiority of Buddhist countries and of India in the treatment both of other human beings and of the lower animals.
The Sangha, or Monastic Community, is the third treasure of Buddhism, and the satisfaction of the Buddhist laity with the monastic body is said to be very great. At any rate, the cause of education in Burma owes much to the monks, but it is hard to realize how the Monastic Community can be in the same sense a 'refuge' from the miseries of the world as the Buddha or Dharmak‚ya.
The name Dharmak‚ya [Footnote: Johnston, Buddhist China, p. 77.] (Body of Dharma, or system of rightness) may strike strangely upon our ears, but northern Buddhism makes much of it, and even though it may not go back to Sakya Muni himself, it is a development of germs latent in his teaching; and to my own mind there is no more wonderful conception in the great religions than that of Dharmak‚ya. If any one attacks our Buddhist friends for atheism, they have only to refer (if they can admit a synthesis of northern and southern doctrines) to the conception of Dharmak‚ya, of Him who is 'for ever Divine and Eternal,' who is 'the One, devoid of all determinations.' 'This Body of Dharma,' we are told, 'has no boundary, no quarters, but is embodied in all bodies.... All forms of corporeality are involved therein; it is able to create all things. Assuming any concrete material form, as required by the nature and condition of karma, it illuminates all creations.... There is no place in the universe where this Body does not prevail. The universe becomes dust; this Body for ever remains. It is free from all opposites and contraries, yet it is working in all things to lead them to Nirvana.' [Footnote: Suzuki, Outlines, pp. 223-24.]
In fact, this Dharmak‚ya is the ultimate principle of cosmic energy. We may call it principle, but it is not, like Brahman, absolutely impersonal. Often it assumes personality, when it receives the name of Tathagata. It has neither passions nor prejudices, but works for the salvation of all sentient beings universally. Love (karun‚) and intelligence (bodhi) are equally its characteristics. It is only the veil of illusion (maya) which prevents us from seeing Dharmak‚ya in its magnificence. When this veil is lifted, individual existences as such will lose their significance; they will become sublimated and ennobled in the oneness of Dharmak‚ya. [Footnote: Ibid. p. 179.]
Will the reader forgive me if I mention some other jewels of the Buddhist faith? One is the Buddha Ami'tabha, and the other Kuanyin or Kwannon, his son or daughter; others will be noted presently. The latter is especially popular in China and Japan, and is generally spoken of by Europeans as the 'Goddess of Mercy.' 'Goddess,' however, is incorrect, [Footnote: Johnston, Buddhist China, p. 123.] just as 'God' would be incorrect in the case of Ami'tabha. Sakya Muni was considered greater than any of the gods. All such Beings were saviours and helpers to man, just as Jesus is looked up to by Christian believers as a saviour and deliverer, and perhaps I might add, just as there are, according to the seer-poet Dante, three compassionate women (donne) in heaven. [Footnote: Dante, D.C., Inf. ii. 124 f. The 'blessed women' seem to be Mary (the mother of Christ), Beatrice, and Lucia.] Kwannon and her Father may surely be retained by Chinese and Japanese, not as gods, but as gracious bodhisatts (i.e. Beings whose essence is intelligence).
I would also mention here as 'jewels' of the Buddhists (1) their tenderness for all living creatures. Legend tells of Sakya Muni that in a previous state of existence he saved the life of a doe and her young one by offering his own life as a substitute. In one of the priceless panels of BŰrŰbudŻr in Java this legend is beautifully used. [Footnote: Havell, Indian Sculpture and Painting, p. 123.] It must indeed have been almost more impressive to the Buddhists even than Buddha's precept.
E'en as a mother watcheth o'er her child, Her only child, as long as life doth last, So let us, for all creatures great or small, Develop such a boundless heart and mind, Ay, let us practise love for all the world, Upward and downward, yonder, thence, Uncramped, free from ill-will and enmity.[a]
[Footnote a: Mrs. Rhys Davids, Buddhism, p. 219.]
(2 and 3) Faith in the universality of inspiration and a hearty admission that spiritual pre-eminence is open to women. As to the former, Suzuki has well pointed out that Christ is conceived of by Buddhists quite as the Buddha himself. [Footnote: Suzuki, Outlines of the Mah‚y‚na Buddhism.] 'The Dharmak‚ya revealed itself as Sakya Muni to the Indian mind, because that was in harmony with its needs. The Dharmak‚ya appeared in the person of Christ on the Semitic stage, because it suited their taste best in this way.' As to the latter, there were women in the ranks of the Arahats in early times; and, as the Psalms of the Brethren show, there were even child-Arahats, and, so one may presume, girl-Arahats. And if it is objected that this refers to the earlier and more flourishing period of the Buddhist religion, yet it is in a perfectly modern summary of doctrine that we find these suggestive words, [Footnote: Omoro in Oxford Congress of Religions, Transactions, i. 152.] 'With this desire even a maiden of seven summers [Footnote: 'The age of seven is assigned to all at their ordination' (Psalms of the Brethren, p. xxx.) The reference is to child-Arahats.] may be a leader of the four multitudes of beings.' That spirituality has nothing to do with the sexes is the most wonderful law in the teachings of the Buddhas.'
India being the home of philosophy, it is not surprising either that Indian religion should take a predominantly philosophical form, or that there should be a great variety of forms of Indian religion. This is not to say that the feelings were neglected by the framers of Indian theory, or that there is any essential difference between the forms of Indian religion. On the contrary, love and intelligence are inseparably connected in that religion and there are fundamental ideas which impart a unity to all the forms of Hindu religion. That form of religion, however, in which love (karun‚) receives the highest place, and becomes the centre conjointly with intelligence of a theory of emancipation and of perfect Buddhahood, is neither Vedantism nor primitive Buddhism, but that later development known as the Mah‚y‚na. Germs indeed there are of the later theory; and how should there not be, considering the wisdom and goodness of those who framed those systems? How beautiful is that ancient description of him who would win the joy of living in Brahma (Tagore, Sadhan‚, p. 106), and not much behind it is the following passage of the Bhagavad-Gita, 'He who hates no single being, who is friendly and compassionate to all ... whose thought and reason are directed to Me, he who is [thus] devoted to Me is dear to Me' (Discourse xii. 13, 14). This is a fine utterance, and there are others as fine.
One may therefore expect that most Indian Vedantists will, on entering the Bahai Society, make known as widely as they can the beauties of the Bhagavad-Gita. I cannot myself profess that I admire the contents as much as some Western readers, but much is doubtless lost to me through my ignorance of Sanskrit. Prof. Garbe and Prof. Hopkins, however, confirm me in my view that there is often a falling off in the immediateness of the inspiration, and that many passages have been interpolated. It is important to mention this here because it is highly probable that in future the Scriptures of the various churches and sects will be honoured by being read, not less devotionally but more critically. Not the Bibles as they stand at present are revealed, but the immanent Divine Wisdom. Many things in the outward form of the Scriptures are, for us, obsolete. It devolves upon us, in the spirit of filial respect, to criticize them, and so help to clear the ground for a new prophet.
A few more quotations from the fine Indian Scriptures shall be given. Their number could be easily increased, and one cannot blame those Western admirers of the Gita who display almost as fervent an enthusiasm for the unknown author of the Gita as Dante had for his savio duca in his fearsome pilgrimage.
THE BHAGAVAD-GITA AND THE UPANISHADS
Such criticism was hardly possible in England, even ten or twenty years ago, except for the Old Testament. Some scholars, indeed, had had their eyes opened, but even highly cultured persons in the lay-world read the Bhagavad-Gita with enthusiastic admiration but quite uncritically. Much as I sympathize with Margaret Noble (Sister Nivedita), Jane Hay (of St. Abb's, Berwickshire, N.B.), and Rose R. Anthon, I cannot desire that their excessive love for the Gita should find followers. I have it on the best authority that the apparent superiority of the Indian Scriptures to those of the Christian world influenced Margaret Noble to become 'Sister Nivedita'—a great result from a comparatively small cause. And Miss Anthon shows an excess of enthusiasm when she puts these words (without note or comment) into the mouth of an Indian student:—
'But now, O sire, I have found all the wealth and treasure and honour of the universe in these words that were uttered by the King of Kings, the Lover of Love, the Giver of Heritages. There is nothing I ask for; no need is there in my being, no want in my life that this Gita does not fill to overflowing.' [Footnote: Stories of India, 1914, p. 138.]
There are in fact numerous passages in the Gita which, united, would form a Holy Living and a Holy Dying, if we were at the pains to add to the number of the passages a few taken from the Upanishads. Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore have already studded their lectures with jewels from the Indian Scriptures. The Hindus themselves delight in their holy writings, but if these writings are to become known in the West, the grain must first be sifted. In other words, there must be literary and perhaps also (I say it humbly) moral criticism.
I will venture to add a few quotations:—
'Whenever there is a decay of religion, O Bh‚ratas, and an ascendency of irreligion, then I manifest myself.
'For the protection of the good, for the destruction of evildoers, for the firm establishment of religion, I am born in every age.'
The other passages are not less noble.
'They also who worship other gods and make offering to them with faith, O son of Kunti, do verily make offering to me, though not according to ordinance.'
'Never have I not been, never hast thou, and never shall time yet come when we shall not all be. That which pervades this universe is imperishable; there is none can make to perish that changeless being. This never is born, and never dies, nor may it after being come again to be not; this unborn, everlasting, abiding, Ancient, is not slain when the body is slain. Knowing This to be imperishable, everlasting, unborn, changeless, how and whom can a man make to be slain or slay? As a man lays aside outworn garments, and takes others that are new, so the Body-Dweller puts away outworn bodies and goes to others that are new. Everlasting is This, dwelling in all things, firm, motionless, ancient of days.'
Judaism, too, is so rich in spiritual treasures that I hesitate to single out more than a very few jewels. It is plain, however, that it needs to be reformed, and that this need is present in many of the traditional forms which enshrine so noble a spiritual experience. The Sabbath, for instance, is as the apple of his eye to every true-hearted Jew; he addresses it in his spiritual songs as a Princess. And he does well; the title Princess belongs of right to 'Shabbath.' For the name—be it said in passing—is probably a corruption of a title of the Mother-goddess Ashtart, and it would, I think, have been no blameworthy act if the religious transformers of Israelite myths had made a special myth, representing Shabbath as a man. When the Messiah comes, I trust that He will do this. For 'the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.'
The faith of the Messiah is another of Israel's treasures. Or rather, perhaps I should say, the faith in the Messiahs, for one Messiah will not meet the wants of Israel or the world. The Messiah, or the Being-like-a-man (Dan. vii. 13), is a supernatural Being, who appears on earth when he is wanted, like the Logos. We want Messiah badly now; specially, I should say, we Christians want 'great-souled ones' (Mahatmas), who can 'guide us into all the truth' (John xvi. 13). That they have come in the past, I doubt not. God could not have left his human children in the lurch for all these centuries. One thousand Jews of Tihran are said to have accepted Baha'ullah as the expected Messiah. They were right in what they affirmed, and only wrong in what they denied. And are we not all wrong in virtually denying the Messiahship of women-leaders like Kurratu'l 'Ayn; at least, I have only met with this noble idea in a work of Fiona Macleod.
And what of our own religion?
What precious jewels are there which we can share with our Oriental brethren? First of all one may mention that wonderful picture of the divine-human Saviour, which, full of mystery as it is, is capable of attracting to its Hero a fervent and loving loyalty, and melting the hardest heart. We have also a portrait (implicit in the Synoptic Gospels)—the product of nineteenth century criticism—of the same Jesus Christ, and yet who could venture to affirm that He really was the same, or that a subtle aroma had not passed away from the Life of lives? In this re-painted portrait we have, no longer a divine man, but simply a great and good Teacher and a noble Reformer. This portrait too is in its way impressive, and capable of lifting men above their baser selves, but it would obviously be impossible to take this great Teacher and Reformer for the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind.
We have further a pearl of great price in the mysticism of Paul, which presupposes, not the Jesus of modern critics, nor yet the Jesus of the Synoptics, but a splendid heart-uplifting Jesus in the colours of mythology. In this Jesus Paul lived, and had a constant ecstatic joy in the everlasting divine work of creation. He was 'crucified with Christ,' and it was no longer Paul that lived, but Christ that lived in him. And the universe—which was Paul's, inasmuch as it was Christ's—was transformed by the same mysticism. 'It was,' says Evelyn Underhill, [Footnote: The Mystic Way, p. 194 (chap. iii. 'St. Paul and the Mystic Way').] 'a universe soaked through and through by the Presence of God: that transcendent-immanent Reality, "above all, and through all, and in you all" as fontal "Father," energising "Son," indwelling "Spirit," in whom every mystic, Christian or non-Christian, is sharply aware that "we live and move and have our being." To his extended consciousness, as first to that of Jesus, this Reality was more actual than anything else—"God is all in all."'
It is true, this view of the Universe as God-filled is probably not Paul's, for the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians are hardly that great teacher's work. But it is none the less authentic, 'God is all and in all'; the whole Universe is temporarily a symbol by which God is at once manifested and veiled. I fear we have largely lost this. It were therefore better to reconquer this truth by India's help. Probably indeed the initial realization of the divinity of the universe (including man) is due to an increased acquaintance with the East and especially with Persia and India.
And I venture to think that Catholic Christians have conferred a boon on their Protestant brethren by emphasizing the truth of the feminine element (see pp. 31, 37) in the manifestation of the Deity, just as the Chinese and Japanese Buddhists have done for China and Japan, and the modern reformers of Indian religion have done for India. This too is a 'gem of purest ray.'
BIOGRAPHICAL AND HISTORICAL
SEYYID 'ALI MUHAMMAD (THE BAB)
Seyyid 'Ali Muhammad was born at Hafiz' city. It was not his lot, however, to rival that great lyric poet; God had far other designs for him. Like St. Francis, he had a merchant for his father, but this too was widely apart from 'AH Muhammad's destiny, which was neither more nor less than to be a manifestation of the Most High. His birthday was on the 1st Muharrem, A.H. 1236 (March 26, A.D. 1821). His maternal uncle, [Footnote: This relative of the Bab is mentioned in Baha-'ullah's Book of Ighan, among the men of culture who visited Baha-'ullah at Baghdad and laid their difficulties before him. His name was Seyyid 'Ali Muhammad (the same name as the Bab's).] however, had to step in to take a father's place; he was early left an orphan. When eighteen or nineteen years of age he was sent, for commercial reasons, to Bushire, a place with a villainous climate on the Persian Gulf, and there he wrote his first book, still in the spirit of Shi'ite orthodoxy.
It was in A.D. 1844 that a great change took place, not so much in doctrine as in the outward framework of Ali Muhammad's life. That the twelfth Imam should reappear to set up God's beneficent kingdom, that his 'Gate' should be born just when tradition would have him to be born, was perhaps not really surprising; but that an ordinary lad of Shiraz should be chosen for this high honour was exciting, and would make May 23rd a day memorable for ever. [Footnote: TN, pp. 3 (n.1), 220 f.; cp. AMB, p. 204.]
It was, in fact, on this day (at 2.5 A.M.) that, having turned to God for help, he cried out, 'God created me to instruct these ignorant ones, and to save them from the error into which they are plunged.' And from this time we cannot doubt that the purifying west wind breathed over the old Persian land which needed it so sadly.
It is probable, however, that the reformer had different ideas of discipleship. In one of his early letters he bids his correspondent take care to conceal his religion until he can reveal it without fear. Among his chief disciples were that gallant knight called the 'Gate's Gate,' Kuddus, and his kind uncle. Like most religious leaders he attached great worth to pilgrimages. He began by journeying to the Shi'ite holy places, consecrated by the events of the Persian Passion-play. Then he embarked at Bushire, accompanied (probably) by Kuddus. The winds, however, were contrary, and he was glad to rest a few days at Mascat. It is probable that at Mecca (the goal of his journey) he became completely detached from the Muhammadan form of Islam. There too he made arrangements for propaganda. Unfavourable as the times seemed, his disciples were expected to have the courage of their convictions, and even his uncle, who was no longer young, became a fisher of men. This, it appears to me, is the true explanation of an otherwise obscure direction to the uncle to return to Persia by the overland route, via Baghdad, 'with the verses which have come down from God.'
The overland route would take the uncle by the holy places of 'Irak; 'Ali [Muh.]ammad's meaning therefore really is that his kinsman is to have the honour of evangelizing the important city of Baghdad, and of course the pilgrims who may chance to be at Karbala and Nejef. These were, to Shi'ites, the holiest of cities, and yet the reformer had the consciousness that there was no need of searching for a kibla. God was everywhere, but if one place was holier than another, it was neither Jerusalem nor Mecca, but Shiraz. To this beautiful city he returned, nothing loth, for indeed the manners of the pilgrims were the reverse of seemly. His own work was purely spiritual: it was to organize an attack on a foe who should have been, but was no longer, spiritual.
Among his first steps was sending the 'First to Believe' to Isfahan to make a conquest of the learned Mulla Mukaddas. His expectation was fully realized. Mukaddas was converted, and hastened to Shiraz, eager to prove his zeal. His orders were (according to one tradition) to introduce the name of 'Ali Muhammad into the call to prayer (azan) and to explain a passage in the commentary on the Sura of Joseph. This was done, and the penalty could not be delayed. After suffering insults, which to us are barely credible, Mukaddas and his friend found shelter for three days in Shiraz in the Bab's house.
It should be noted that I here employ the symbolic name 'the Bab.' There is a traditional saying of the prophet Muhammad, 'I am the city of knowledge, and 'Ali is its Gate.' It seems, however, that there is little, if any, difference between 'Gate' (Bab) and 'Point' (nukta), or between either of these and 'he who shall arise' (ka'im) and 'the Imam Mahdi.' But to this we shall return presently.
But safety was not long to be had by the Bab or by his disciples either in Shiraz or in Bushire (where the Bab then was). A fortnight afterwards twelve horsemen were sent by the governor of Fars to Bushire to arrest the Bab and bring him back to Shiraz. Such at least is one tradition, [Footnote: AMB, p. 226.] but some Babis, according to Nicolas, energetically deny it. Certainly it is not improbable that the governor, who had already taken action against the Babi missionaries, should wish to observe the Bab within a nearer range, and inflict a blow on his growing popularity. Unwisely enough, the governor left the field open to the mullas, who thought by placing the pulpit of the great mosque at his disposal to be able to find material for ecclesiastical censure. But they had left one thing out of their account—the ardour of the Bab's temperament and the depth of his conviction. And so great was the impression produced by the Bab's sermon that the Shah Muhammad, who heard of it, sent a royal commissioner to study the circumstances on the spot. This step, however, was a complete failure. One may doubt indeed whether the Sayyid Yahya was ever a politician or a courtier. See below, p. 90.
The state of things had now become so threatening that a peremptory order to the governor was sent from the court to put an end to such a display of impotence. It is said that the aid of assassins was not to be refused; the death of the Bab might then be described as 'a deplorable accident.' The Bab himself was liable at any moment to be called into a conference of mullas and high state-officers, and asked absurd questions. He got tired of this and thought he would change his residence, especially as the cholera came and scattered the population. Six miserable months he had spent in Shiraz, and it was time for him to strengthen and enlighten the believers elsewhere. The goal of his present journey was Isfahan, but he was not without hopes of soon reaching Tihran and disabusing the mind of the Shah of the false notions which had become lodged in it. So, after bidding farewell to his relatives, he and his secretary and another well-tried companion turned their backs on the petty tyrant of Shiraz. [Footnote: AMB, p. 370.] The Bab, however, took a very wise precaution. At the last posting station before Isfahan he wrote to Minuchihr Khan, the governor (a Georgian by origin), announcing his approach and invoking the governor's protection.
Minuchihr Khan, who was religiously openminded though not scrupulous enough in the getting of money, [Footnote: NH, p. 346.] granted this request, and sent word to the leading mulla (the Imam-Jam'a) that he should proffer hospitality to this eminent new-comer. This the Imam did, and so respectful was he for 'forty days' that he used to bring the basin for his guest to wash his hands at mealtimes. [Footnote: Ibid. p. 372.] The rapidity with which the Bab indited (or revealed) a commentary on a sura of the Kur'an greatly impressed him, but afterwards he gave way to the persecuting tendencies of his colleagues, who had already learned to dread the presence of Babite missionaries. At the bidding of the governor, however, who had some faith in the Bab and hoped for the best, a conference was arranged between the mullas and the Bab (poor man!) at the governor's house. The result was that Minuchihr Khan declared that the mullas had by no means proved the reformer to be an impostor, but that for the sake of peace he would at once send the Bab with an escort of horsemen to the capital. This was to all appearance carried out. The streets were crowded as the band of mounted men set forth, some of the Isfahanites (especially the mullas) rejoicing, but a minority inwardly lamenting. This, however, was only a blind. The governor cunningly sent a trusty horseman with orders to overtake the travellers a short distance out of Isfahan, and bring them by nightfall to the governor's secret apartments or (as others say) to one of the royal palaces. There the Bab had still to spend a little more than four untroubled halcyon months.
But a storm-cloud came up from the sea, no bigger than a man's hand, and it spread, and the destruction wrought by it was great. On March 4, 1847, the French ambassador wrote home stating that the governor of Isfahan had died, leaving a fortune of 40 million francs. [Footnote: AMB, p. 242.] He could not be expected to add what the Babite tradition affirms, that the governor offered the Bab all his riches and even the rings on his fingers, [Footnote: TN, pp. 12, 13, 264-8; NH, p. 402 (Subh-i-Ezel's narrative), cp. pp. 211, 346.] to which the prophet refers in the following passage of his famous letter to Muhammad Shah, written from Maku:
'The other question is an affair of this lower world. The late Meu'timed [a title of Minuchihr Khan], one night, made all the bystanders withdraw, ... then he said to me, "I know full well that all that I have gained I have gotten by violence, and that belongs to the Lord of the Age. I give it therefore entirely to thee, for thou art the Master of Truth, and I ask thy permission to become its possessor." He even took off a ring which he had on his finger, and gave it to me. I took the ring and restored it to him, and sent him away in possession of all his goods.... I will not have a dinar of those goods, but it is for you to ordain as shall seem good to you.... [As witnesses] send for Sayyid Yahya [Footnote: See above, p. 47.] and Mulla Abdu'l-Khalik.... [Footnote: A disciple of Sheykh Ahmad. He became a Babi, but grew lukewarm in the faith (NH, pp. 231, 342 n.1).] The one became acquainted with me before the Manifestation, the other after. Both know me right well; this is why I have chosen them.' [Footnote: AMB, pp. 372, 373.]
It was not likely, however, that the legal heir would waive his claim, nor yet that the Shah or his minister would be prepared with a scheme for distributing the ill-gotten riches of the governor among the poor, which was probably what the Bab himself wished. It should be added (but not, of course, from this letter) that Minuchihr Khan also offered the Bab more than 5000 horsemen and footmen of the tribes devoted to his interests, with whom he said that he would with all speed march upon the capital, to enforce the Shah's acceptance of the Bab's mission. This offer, too, the Bab rejected, observing that the diffusion of God's truth could not be effected by such means. But he was truly grateful to the governor who so often saved him from the wrath of the mullas. 'God reward him,' he would say, 'for what he did for me.'
Of the governor's legal heir and successor, Gurgin Khan, the Bab preserved a much less favourable recollection. In the same letter which has been quoted from already he says: 'Finally, Gurgin made me travel during seven nights without any of the necessaries of a journey, and with a thousand lies and a thousand acts of violence.' [Footnote: AMB, p. 371.] In fact, after trying to impose upon the Bab by crooked talk, Gurgin, as soon as he found out where the Bab had taken refuge, made him start that same night, just as he was, and without bidding farewell to his newly-married wife, for the capital. 'So incensed was he [the Bab] at this treatment that he determined to eat nothing till he arrived at Kashan [a journey of five stages], and in this resolution he persisted... till he reached the second stage, Murchi-Khur. There, however, he met Mulla Sheykh Ali... and another of his missionaries, whom he had commissioned two days previously to proceed to Tihran; and then, on learning from his guards how matters stood, succeeded in prevailing on him to take some food.' [Footnote: NH, pp. 348, 349.]
Certainly it was a notable journey, diversified by happy meetings with friends and inquirers at Kashan, Khanlik, Zanjan, Milan, and Tabriz. At Kashan the Bab saw for the first time that fervent disciple, who afterwards wrote the history of early Babism, and his equally true-hearted brother—merchants both of them. In fact, Mirza Jani bribed the chief of the escort, to allow him for two days the felicity of entertaining God's Messenger. [Footnote: Ibid. pp. 213, 214.] Khanlik has also—though a mere village—its honourable record, for there the Bab was first seen by two splendid youthful heroes [Footnote: Ibid. pp. 96-101.]—Riza Khan (best hated of all the Babis) and Mirza Huseyn 'Ali (better known as Baha-'ullah). At Milan (which the Bab calls 'one of the regions of Paradise'), as Mirza Jani states, 'two hundred persons believed and underwent a true and sincere conversion.' [Footnote: Ibid. p. 221. Surely these conversions were due, not to a supposed act of miraculous healing, but to the 'majesty and dignity' of God's Messenger. The people were expecting a Messiah, and here was a Personage who came up to the ideal they had formed.]What meetings took place at Zanjan and Tabriz, the early Babi historian does not report; later on, Zanjan was a focus of Babite propagandism, but just then the apostle of the Zanjan movement was summoned to Tihran. From Tabriz a remarkable cure is reported, [Footnote: NH, p. 226.] and as a natural consequence we hear of many conversions.
The Bab was specially favoured in the chief of his escort, who, in the course of the journey, was fascinated by the combined majesty and gentleness of his prisoner. His name was Muhammad Beg, and his moral portrait is thus limned by Mirza Jani: 'He was a man of kindly nature and amiable character, and [became] so sincere and devoted a believer that whenever the name of His Holiness was mentioned he would incontinently burst into tears, saying,
I scarcely reckon as life the days when to me thou wert all unknown, But by faithful service for what remains I may still for the past atone.'
It was the wish, both of the Bab and of this devoted servant, that the Master should be allowed to take up his residence (under surveillance) at Tabriz, where there were already many Friends of God. But such was not the will of the Shah and his vizier, who sent word to Khanlik [Footnote: Khanlik is situated 'about six parasangs' from Tihran (NH, p. 216). It is in the province of Azarbaijan.] that the governor of Tabriz (Prince Bahman Mirza) should send the Bab in charge of a fresh escort to the remote mountain-fortress of Maku. The faithful Muhammad Beg made two attempts to overcome the opposition of the governor, but in vain; how, indeed, could it be otherwise? All that he could obtain was leave to entertain the Bab in his own house, where some days of rest were enjoyed. 'I wept much at his departure,' says Muhammad. No doubt the Bab often missed his respectful escort; he had made a change for the worse, and when he came to the village at the foot of the steep hill of Maku, he found the inhabitants 'ignorant and coarse.'
It may, however, be reasonably surmised that before long the Point of Wisdom changed his tone, and even thanked God for his sojourn at Maku. For though strict orders had come from the vizier that no one was to be permitted to see the Bab, any one whom the illustrious captive wished to converse with had free access to him. Most of the time which remained was occupied with writing (his secretary was with him); more than 100,000 'verses' are said to have come from that Supreme Pen.
By miracles the Bab set little store; in fact, the only supernatural gift which he much valued was that of inditing 'signs or verses, which appear to have produced a similar thrilling effect to those of the great Arabian Prophet. But in the second rank he must have valued a power to soothe and strengthen the nervous system which we may well assign to him, and we can easily believe that the lower animals were within the range of this beneficent faculty. Let me mention one of the horse-stories which have gathered round the gentle form of the Bab. [Footnote: AMB, p. 371.]
It is given neither in the Babi nor in the Muslim histories of this period. But it forms a part of a good oral tradition, and it may supply the key to those words of the Bab in his letter to Muhammad Shah: [Footnote: Ibid. pp. 249, 250.] 'Finally, the Sultan [i.e. the Shah] ordered that I should journey towards Maku without giving me a horse that I could ride.' We learn from the legend that an officer of the Shah did call upon the Bab to ride a horse which was too vicious for any ordinary person to mount. Whether this officer was really (as the legend states) 'Ali Khan, the warden of Maku, who wished to test the claims of 'Ali Muhammad by offering him a vicious young horse and watching to see whether 'Ali Muhammad or the horse would be victorious, is not of supreme importance. What does concern us is that many of the people believed that by a virtue which resided in the Bab it was possible for him to soothe the sensitive nerves of a horse, so that it could be ridden without injury to the rider.
There is no doubt, however, that 'Ali Khan, the warden of the fortress, was one of that multitude of persons who were so thrilled by the Bab's countenance and bearing that they were almost prompted thereby to become disciples. It is highly probable, too, that just now there was a heightening of the divine expression on that unworldly face, derived from an intensification of the inner life. In earlier times 'Ali Muhammad had avoided claiming Mahdiship (Messiahship) publicly; to the people at large he was not represented as the manifested Twelfth Im‚m, but only as the Gate, or means of access to that more than human, still existent being. To disciples of a higher order 'Ali Muhammad no doubt disclosed himself as he really was, but, like a heavenly statesman, he avoided inopportune self-revelations. Now, however, the religious conditions were becoming different. Owing in some cases to the indiscretion of disciples, in others to a craving for the revolution of which the Twelfth Im‚m was the traditional instrument, there was a growing popular tendency to regard Mirza 'Ali Muhammad as a 'return' of the Twelfth Im‚m, who was, by force of arms, to set up the divine kingdom upon earth. It was this, indeed, which specially promoted the early Babi propagandism, and which probably came up for discussion at the Badasht conference.
In short, it had become a pressing duty to enlighten the multitude on the true objects of the Bab. Even we can see this—we who know that not much more than three years were remaining to him. The Bab, too, had probably a presentiment of his end; this was why he was so eager to avoid a continuance of the great misunderstanding. He was indeed the Twelfth Im‚m, who had returned to the world of men for a short time. But he was not a Mahdi of the Islamic type.
A constant stream of Tablets (letters) flowed from his pen. In this way he kept himself in touch with those who could not see him in the flesh. But there were many who could not rest without seeing the divine Manifestation. Pilgrims seemed never to cease; and it made the Bab still happier to receive them.
This stream of Tablets and of pilgrims could not however be exhilarating to the Shah and his Minister. They complained to the castle-warden, and bade him be a stricter gaoler, but 'Ali Khan, too, was under the spell of the Gate of Knowledge; or—as one should rather say now—the Point or Climax of Prophetic Revelation, for so the Word of Prophecy directed that he should be called. So the order went forth that 'Ali Muhammad should be transferred to another castle—that of Chihrik. [Footnote: Strictly, six or eight months (Feb. or April to Dec. 1847) at Maku, and two-and-a-half years at Chihrik (Dec. 1847 to July 1850).]
At this point a digression seems necessary.
The Bab was well aware that a primary need of the new fraternity was a new Kur'an. This he produced in the shape of a book called The Bayan (Exposition). Unfortunately he adopted from the Muslims the unworkable idea of a sacred language, and his first contributions to the new Divine Library (for the new Kur'an ultimately became this) were in Arabic. These were a Commentary on the Sura of Yusuf (Joseph) and the Arabic Bayan. The language of these, however, was a barrier to the laity, and so the 'first believer' wrote a letter to the Bab, enforcing the necessity of making himself intelligible to all. This seems to be the true origin of the Persian Bayan.