Economics Begins with the Farmer 1
IN 1912 AMERICA, THE long process of twentieth-century urbanization was just beginning. In spite of the rapid growth of urban industries — the garment factories of the East Coast, the automobile manufacturing plants in Detroit, the steelworks of Pennsylvania and Indiana — most Americans still lived and worked on farms. Such rural vitality was on dazzling display during the National Irrigation Congress in Salt Lake City.
After spending the day on September 30, 1912, attending the opening convention at the Mormon Tabernacle in Temple Square, visiting the State Fair, and watching the bright lights of the electrical parade that evening, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá departed Salt Lake City on October 1 at 2:50 p.m. for the final leg of his long train journey to San Francisco. The train steamed forty miles north to stop in Ogden, Utah, then headed due west over the briny waters of Great Salt Lake on the Lucin Cutoff Railroad Trestle, a fifty-one-mile long shortcut built across the middle of the lake in 1904.
Throughout his trip in America, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had spoken in general terms about the economic issues that plagued the nation’s growing industrial society: widespread poverty, industrial slavery, the need to avoid coerced equality, and the missing moral principles — such as generosity and service — that were required to balance competing interests. But in Montreal on September 3, to a meeting of Socialists, he had laid out economic prescriptions in more detail. As the train sped toward San Francisco on October 2 and 3, he wrote to clarify his position to Agnes Parsons. “My explanation,” he told her, “has been mis-reported in the papers.” …
The people who were attracted to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in San Francisco were as varied as ever. Each day the people in neighboring houses watched His comings and goings in the two automobiles sent by Mrs. [Helen] Goodall, Mrs. [Ella Goodall] Cooper, and the [William and Georgia] Ralstons for His drives. Newspaper reporters came, and a cross section of people, some returning to bring their children. Kanichi Yamamoto, the first Japanese Bahá’í, asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to give Persian names to his three children, David Starr Jordan, the president of Leland Stanford Junior University, came; and the mayor of Berkeley [Frank K. Mott] asked questions concerning economics.
We aspire to find true human beings in this world. 3
Among some of the prominent people visiting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was the president of Stanford University at Palo Alto. He was so attracted to the teachings that he begged the Master to come to his university and speak. Some newspaper reporters also visited the Master and were permitted to record His words about the teachings and history of the Cause. They too were showered with His special bestowals.
The Master gave a short address at a public meeting on the subject of spiritual life:
We aspire to find true human beings in this world. Man becomes human only through spiritual life, and the foundation of such a life is made up of heavenly perfections, divine attributes, service to humanity, eagerness to receive eternal bounties, praiseworthy morals, unity, love of God, wisdom and knowledge of God. If the aim were this physical life only, then this creation would be in vain and men would not have more honor or be nobler than other creatures. The greatest of sensual pleasures, beauty of appearance and freedom are found among the animals. Birds excel all in sensual pleasures, for they build nests on the loftiest branches and breathe the purest air. All seeds and fruit are their property. Limpid streams, charming plains, beautiful fields, verdant hills, green valleys, exquisite gardens and lovely flowers are all for their pleasure and happiness. They have no grief, regrets, aspirations, ambitions, quarrels, contentions, wars or massacres. If the purpose of existence is sensual life and pleasures, then animal and man are equal. Happiness and pleasure are rather the possession of the bird and not those of distressed and sorrowful men.
There was a gathering in the afternoon at the home of Mrs Goodall and Mrs Cooper in Oakland. The friends of Oakland and San Francisco rejoiced at meeting Him and the seekers were grateful and appreciative of His guidance. A large crowd filled the spacious house. Both before and after the meeting, those who had not had the honor of meeting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came in groups to the second floor and were honored to receive His bounty. The Oakland friends brought their children to be blessed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. His talk to the gathering was on the power of the Word of God, the influence of the Supreme Cause and the union of the people of the East and the West. The audience became increasingly humble as the people listened to the Master.
There is a bay between San Francisco and Oakland which can be crossed in 15 minutes by boat. The Master’s automobile was being ferried across the channel at night. When it reached midway, we saw a magnificent sight: lighted boats traveling back and forth against the shimmering lights of San Francisco. The splendid buildings and towers adorned with brilliant lights seemed to be golden palaces set with colored jewels. Lights from the homes crowning the high hills appeared like a string of pearls. The Master enjoyed the scene and whenever He went that way He praised it highly.
25 September 1912, Talk at Second Divine Science Church, 3929 West Thirty-eighth Avenue, Denver, Colorado 4
After we have proved the validity of the Manifestations of the Word of God by investigating the divine teachings, we must discover for a certainty whether They have been real Educators of mankind. Among the revelators of the law of God was Moses. When He appeared, all the contemporaneous nations rejected Him. Notwithstanding this, single and alone He promulgated the divine teachings and liberated a nation from the lowest condition of degradation and bondage. The people of Israel were ignorant, lowly, debased in morals—a race of slaves under burdensome oppression. Moses led them out of captivity and brought them to the Holy Land. He educated and disciplined them, established among them the foundations of material and divine civilization. Through the education of Moses these ignorant people attained an advanced degree of power and prestige, culminating in the glory of the reign of Solomon. From the abyss of bereavement and slavery they were uplifted to the highest plane of progress and civilized nationhood. It is evident, therefore, that Moses was an Educator and Teacher. The purpose and mission of the holy, divine Messengers is the training and advancement of humanity, the cultivation of divine fruits in the gardens of human hearts, the reflection of heavenly effulgence in the mirrors of human souls, the quickening of mental capacity and the increase of spiritual susceptibilities. When these results and outcomes are witnessed in mankind, the function and mission of the Manifestations are unmistakable. Christ, single and alone, without schooling or outward education and trained to labor in the shop of a carpenter, appeared in the world at the time when the Jewish nation was in the greatest abasement. This radiant Youth, without wealth, power of armies or prestige, rescued the Jews who believed on Him from tyranny and degradation and lifted them to the highest plane of development and glory. Peter, His disciple, was a fisherman. Through the power of Christ he shed light upon all the horizons of the world. Furthermore, various people of the Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Assyrian nations were brought together in unity and agreement; where warfare and bloodshed had existed, humility and love were manifest, and the foundations of divine religion were established, never to be destroyed. This proves that Christ was a heavenly Teacher and Educator of the world of humanity, for such evidences are historical and irrefutable, not based upon tradition and circumstantial report. The power of His Word in cementing these nations together is as clear and evident as the sun at midday. There is no need of further demonstration.
- Menon, Jonathan. “Economics Begins with the Farmer.” 239 Days in America, 2 Oct. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/10/02/abdul-baha-argues-the-importance-of-the-rural-economy/. [return]
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 166. [return]
- ’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. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=8#section193 [return]
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 340-341. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/26#185593022 [return]