The Invasion of the Easterners 1

THEY FIRST INVADED AMERICAN shores in 1883, when Protap Chunder Mozoomdar, a leader in the Brahmo Samaj, an offshoot of Hinduism in the Indian region of Bengal, traveled across America. Anagarika Dharmapala, a leader of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism from Ceylon, had been in touch with Americans for many years before he was invited to represent “Southern Buddhism” at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Then, in September, 1893, Swami Vivekananda, a young firebrand from the Advaita branch of Hinduism, wearing a red turban and bright orange robes, lit up the conference with his fiery oratory, in perfect, poetic English.

“After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation,” the New York Herald wrote.

These eastern teachers were all from India, and Boston was kind to them. Sara Chapman Bull, of Brattle Street in Cambridge, became Vivekananda’s leading patron. And in Eliot, Maine, near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Sarah J. Farmer provided a platform for them at Green Acre, her annual forum where she put the World’s Parliament of Religions on a permanent basis every summer. These were the men who offered American journalists the stereotypes that they would try to use to describe ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in 1912.

But these earlier speakers differed from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in several important ways…

New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts 2

On Friday, May 24, the inquirers and reporters visited Him until He went to Ford Hall in Boston and spoke to an audience of a thousand persons at the Free Religious Association of Unitarians. From there He drove to Brookline to speak and then back to the Boston hotel, Later He spoke for two hours at a meeting in the home of one of the friends.

The Boston Traveler that day included an article headed “Abdul Baha Has Creed He Declares Will Finally Eliminated Criminals.” It reported His saying, “’No, I do not believe in capital punishment… If the Bahai movement is widely successful it will hold such sway over the moral, intellectual and physical character of the race that there will not be a criminal to be found.’”

Their hearts were transformed by His explanations 3

From that conference ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went to Brookline… A banquet was held in a magnificent palace surrounded by resplendent gardens, situated on the summit of a hill and overlooking a large lake, the beauty of which is beyond description. Here a great number of visitors came to see the Master. He was pleased with the meeting and the surroundings. After a delightful talk, attracting all to Him, He returned to Boston to accept a previous invitation. After an hour’s journey in an automobile especially sent for Him, He arrived at the hotel [the Boston Hotel ] for a brief rest. He then went to the meeting which was held at the home of Mrs Nichols, who had sent an automobile for Him. A group of learned and eminent philosophers was waiting for Abdu’l-Bahá to ask Him many important questions, the comprehensive answers to which impressed and satisfied all. The discussion lasted about two hours. Their hearts were transformed by His explanations about universal peace among nations, the equality of rights of men and women and the education of women. Then, after tea, punch and sweets, the meeting ended.

  1. Menon, Jonathan. “The Invasion of the Easterners.” 239 Days in America, 24 May 2012, [return]
  2. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 72. [return]
  3. ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. [return]