Authentically ‘Abdul-Baha?February 7, 2013
Recently I came across a poster on facebook bearing the text:
“The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth,
for truth is one. – ‘Abdul-Baha“
I loved the design: a hazy globe surrounded by an electric green mist, and the plain bold capital letter font, but then I doubted that colliqual phrases such as “the fact that” and “the path towards unity” would be part of ‘Abdul-Baha’s vocabulary. So I asked Sen (who can read Persian) to look for me.
You see most of what is in the book “Paris Talks” cannot be considered authentic Bahai Scripture because this text originates from a French interpretion of what ‘Abdul-Baha said, which in turn was written by another person in French and then from that text, an English translation/interpretation was made. So any text in “Paris Talks” is 3 steps from the original Persian spoken by ‘Abdul-Baha. However, for some of the talks, Persian notes were also made and it was ‘Abdul-Baha’s practise to check any notes in Persian for accuracy. So, if there are Persian notes of the same talk, then we can compare the English to the Persian. What do we do when the English and the Persian texts do not match? Well, trust the Persian of course. So below is the English from a 1969 publication, and the Persian of the same part of the talk as translated by Sen McGlinn.
|The text in English as in “Paris Talks“, (first published in 1912 with another title)
Nov 10th, 1911.
If a man would succeed in his search after truth, he must, in the first place, shut his eyes to all the traditional superstitions of the past.
If five people meet together to seek for truth, they must begin by cutting themselves free from all their own special conditions and renouncing all preconceived ideas. In order to find truth we must give up our prejudices, our own small trivial notions; an open receptive mind is essential. If our chalice is full of self, there is no room in it for the water of life. The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth, for truth is one.
It means, also, that we must be willing to clear away all that we have previously learned, all that would clog our steps on the way to truth; we must not shrink if necessary from beginning our education all over again. We must not allow our love for any one religion or any one personality to so blind our eyes that we become fettered by superstition! When we are freed from all these bonds, seeking with liberated minds, then shall we be able to arrive at our goal.
‘Seek the truth, the truth shall make you free.’ So shall we see the truth in all religions, for truth is in all and truth is one! [end of page 138, 1972 edition]
|Translation from Persian by Sen McGlinn of the same talk from
Khatabat-e Abdu’l-Baha (Talks of Abdu’l-Baha), Vol 1, pp 140-142:
“For example, suppose there are five individuals, each of whom claims to be more learned than the others. They must attain to the station of earnest investigation.
Until we abandon prejudice, how can we explain reality? [If] you as a Zoroastrian say, “I am in the right”, as a Jew you say, “I am in the right”, as a Christian you say, “I am in the right”, as a Buddhist you say, “I am in the right,” how could the truth become apparent? Therefore the Jew must abandon prejudice, the Christian must abandon prejudice, the Buddhist must abandon prejudice.
Until they do so, the truth will not become apparent. To a person of sound understanding who seeks knowledge, knowledge is the object of his quest, whoever may set it forth; the light is his beloved, from whichever lamp it may shine; the rose is his beloved, in whichever soil it may grow.
The sun is the greatest of God’s bounties, it rises from every dawning-place. We should have no prejudice, we should be lovers of the sun. The sun is the sun, whether it may rise from the dawning-place of Moses, or of Muhammad, or of Jesus.
In the same way, the truth is what we all seek, whoever we may hear it from. This is the principle of the investigation of reality. The outcome of such a thorough discussion would be that all the communities of the world would let go of what they have heard, not cleaving to any community nor abhorring any community.
For it could be that the community you abhor is in the right, and that the community to which you cleave is wrong. When you stand aloof from all, not cleaving to any community nor abhorring any, and then investigate truth, it will eventually be evident that the reality of the divine religions is one. The differences lie in imitations [of the past]. The result of the investigation of truth will be that all people will agree.
This is one of the principles of Baha’u’llah. Tomorrow …
The English in Paris Talks reads like somebody’s elaboration of the message given, based on memory because of the extra material added in. The diction and examples used are familiar English ways of explaining things, such as the inclusion of a slightly modified reference from the Gospel of John: ”Seek the truth, the truth shall make you free.” Looking at the text, it seems unlikely that these extra bits come from the French version. If someone would share the French version one day with a translation, I’d be happy to add it here.
However the main message of ‘Abdul-Baha’s talk: that the investigation of truth will help people to find a common truth detached from beliefs accumulated from cultural differences is common in both translations, so you might wonder why I seem to be making such a fuss.
Well, as a designer myself, I love catchy phrases: and I liked the phrase: “The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth, for truth is one.”
But the corresponding text, based on the Persian, reads “When you stand aloof from all, not cleaving to any community nor abhorring any, and then investigate truth, it will eventually be evident that the reality of the divine religions is one. The differences lie in imitations [of the past]. The result of the investigation of truth will be that all people will agree.”
Here we can see that there is nothing in the Persian about imagining ourselves as being right and others as being wrong and in the Persian text ‘unity’ is stressed as a result of investigation (which leads to truth) and not as the cause of truth.
So anything in Paris Talks can only be authentic Bahai Scripture if a written source in Persian can be found that matches the text. Of course, I’m not suggesting that the sentiment is not along the lines of what Abdul-Baha said, but personally I prefer to attach ‘Abdul-Baha’s name only to text that I know is authentically something he said or wrote and in this case, a poster stressing unity as a cause for truth just doesn’t ring true now that I’ve thought about it, although admittedly the text in Paris Talks is “unity is necessary” not “unity causes.”
Universal House of Justice and its research department wrote: “Unfortunately, Abdu’l-Bahá did not read and authenticate all transcripts of His other talks, some of which have been translated into various languages and published. For many of His addresses included in “The Promulgation of Universal Peace” and “Paris Talks”, for example, no original authenticated text has yet been found. However, the Guardian allowed such compilations to continue to be used by the friends. In the future each talk will have to be identified and those which are unauthenticated will have to be clearly distinguished from those which form a part of Baha’i Scripture. This does not mean that the unauthenticated talks will have to cease to be used — merely that the degree of authenticity of every document will have to be known and understood”.
(23 March 1987)
For me, “standing aloof” is about being detached enough from the familiar to see another way or a truth, so it seems apt that this very text set me looking into whether ‘Abdul-Baha might have actually spoken these words.