‘Abdu’l-Baha (on truth and national limitations)

His father called him "the Master". He preferred to be known as a servant.

His father called him “the Master”. He preferred to be known as a servant.

He was a big story in 1912, but aside from the Baha’i community and its friends, few remember ‘Abdu’l-Baha Abbas. For 239 days, he travelled about North America to considerable acclaim: he was heralded in newspapers from Montreal to San Francisco, New York to Chicago as an “Oriental Seer”, the “Baha’i Prophet”, as a “Wonderful Persian Mystic” and “Apostle of Peace”. He gave hundreds of talks in synagogues, churches, universities, public auditoriums and private homes. His topics were many, but the central core of his message was one of spiritual awakening, the hard but necessary road to global peace, and the essential oneness of all faiths, races and peoples. Imagine: 1912.

On May 3, ‘Abdu’l-Baha (it means something like “servant of the Glory”) spoke at the Hotel Plaza in Chicago. He analyzed what factors led to the advancement of civilization and the living of an ethical, productive life. He pointed towards what he called “universal educators”, those historical sources of spiritual, intellectual and material guidance around whom whole systems of belief and practice have arisen. Given where he was, Jesus Christ was his main example.

The quote below almost seemed a throwaway line given at the end of the talk.

Continue Reading >>

Thinking With Your Flagpole

Are you sure that you’re thinking? How do you know?

Bride and Boy and I are back in the academic saddle as of last week, and I saw my freshman writing classes for the first time. Like many Chinese university students, they were often bored during their seven weeks back home, during the huge annual migration that is the Spring Festival period. However, don’t be afraid, for I helped them by giving reading and writing assignments to do. (Attaboy, teach!) So, then I had 324 pages of journal writing to read. (Doofus!) I learn a lot about China and my students that way, though, and not only about which ones are most inclined to plagiarism, and which kids actually try to read in English instead of watching a movie. (You read The Godfather? Puzo’s thick, complex, racy novel? Really?)

Their first new assignment of the term is the argumentative essay. So what do you really feel strongly about? This is often a tough question for kids here, as they are not trained to think critically, and Chinese life requires acceptance, waiting and there-is-no-why (mei you wei shenme) in quantities that North American students can’t imagine. I gave examples and prompts. I asked, for example, Who is the proper owner of the Diaoyu islands? and quickly answered China, of course! and they all smiled at the obviousness of the answer. But when I mentioned that every Japanese student would “think” otherwise, oh, and by the way, that Taiwan is closer than either China or Japan and, yes, Taiwan does not think of itself as being part of the mainland — well, the brows furrowed a little. They started to get where I was going with this: opinion, argument, mind-sharpening, “to learn to write is to learn to have ideas”, as Robert Frost once said.

It put a crease or three in my forehead, too. How do we know when we are really THINKING?

Continue Reading >>

A.A. Cooper (Seven Deadly Virtues)

The Seven Deadly Sins:

Truth, if it becomes a weapon against persons.

Beauty, if it becomes vanity.

Love, if it becomes possessive.

Loyalty, if it becomes blind, careless trust.

Tolerance, if it becomes indifference.

Self-confidence, if it becomes arrogance.

Faith, if it becomes self-righteous.

                                    Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1801-1885, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury: politician, reformer, philanthropist,