March 25, 2010

Recollection of a Pilgrim Talk – by Hooper Dunbar, Member of the Universal House of Justice

Haifa, Israel
Friday 5th March 2010

This is most likely the last time that I will address the pilgrims (Mr. Dunbar retires from the House on March 20). You know the pilgrims are referred to as the life blood of the Bahá’í World Centre. And the beloved Guardian used to say that there were two purposes of pilgrimage. The first was to imbibe, fill yourself with the spirit. The second was to impart – that after you leave the World Centre with your stories, memories, and photos, impart that spirit to others, because only a tiny proportion of the Bahá’í world can come on pilgrimage.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá says that no action is more meritorious than remembering and praying for loved ones in the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh. Ask Bahá’u’lláh’s assistance and forgiveness on their behalf.

When the pilgrims go the Shrines there are all kinds of responses. You may be wondering why everyone around me is in tears and I’m not – am I some kind of dried potato? You may be in the Shrines and remember things about your life that you are not particularly proud of. It happens. What do you do? Friends, leave the things you are not proud of in the Shrines – leave them there. The past is the past. You have to move on. You know Bahá’u’lláh says over and over again that God is the most merciful, the most forgiving God. [e.g: O Thou Provider, O Thou Forgiver! Grant us Thy grace and loving-kindness, Thy gifts and Thy bestowals, and sustain us, that we may attain our goal. Thou art the Powerful, the Able, the Knower, the Seer; and, verily, Thou art the Generous, and, verily, Thou art the All-Merciful, and, verily, Thou art the Ever-Forgiving, He to Whom repentance is due, He Who forgiveth even the most grievous of sins.] Friends, we have to trust that this is the case and move on to serve the Cause, assuming that our past is forgiven. This is one purpose of pilgrimage. But it is God who forgives. We should not play God. We should not think I cannot forgive myself for this or that. Or think how can I arise to do this or that knowing what I have done? God forgives. Move on. Serve the Cause. (Note: Mr. Dunbar was very strong on this point and I am sure helped many).

In the time of Bahá’u’lláh no one could gaze on His face, no one could look into His eyes. As a mercy, He would at times turn side-on – glance away from the friends so that they could see the radiance of His Countenance. They could see the love that radiated from that Blessed face. Some of the pilgrims have recounted their meeting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would look into their eyes with such love. [Note: there are several such stories in Memories of Nine Years in Akka] When looking into their eyes He saw all their misdeeds, all their weaknesses, all their imperfections. Some pilgrims would faint or go into a daze but eventually they came to and heard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá still talking to them. They looked into His face and the love was just the same. You see, even though ‘Abdu’l-Bahá could see all their imperfections, He still loved them the same; His love did not change as a result of knowing everything about them; He loved them despite what He saw. His eyes shone with infinite love.

We need to learn to love humanity in the same way. Bahá’u’lláh says the face is the mirror of the soul – especially the eyes. When the sun shines it shines on everything, it is not discriminatory. We must learn to love all humanity with infinite love - ‘Abdu’l-Bahá calls is “incarnate light” in the Tablets of the Divine Plan.

The Guardian said that the believers do not understand the significance of the Shrines. You know there were no pilgrims allowed between 1941 and 1951 due to the circumstances of the Second World War and the establishment of the State of Israel. The first two Persian pilgrims after that period were Mr. Khadem and General Khazeh. Neither were Hands of the Cause at that time. Some friends in Persia told them not to go on pilgrimage as the Guardian could read their thoughts. Mr. Khadem had the infinite privilege of bringing the original of the Kitáb-i-Iqán with him – this is in the handwriting of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Bahá’u’lláh has made some additions in His own hand. This is one of the most precious items we have in the Archives.

The pilgrims stayed in the Haifa Pilgrim House and each day Shoghi Effendi would take them to one of the Shrines – he would collect them and on the way talk about the greatness of the Cause. One day they would go to the Shrine of the Báb. The next day - to the Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The Guardian would go in and they followed. He prostrated himself, kissed the Threshold, then arose, chanted the Tablet of Visitation, and then backed out of the Shrine. Mr. Khadem and General Khazeh did not know where to look. General Khazeh told me we did not know whether to look at the Shrine or to look at Shoghi Effendi. So they kind of “half-halved” it – looked both at the Shrine and the Guardian. They finished their prayers and then went outside. The Guardian had his boots on and was waiting for them. He said that the Messengers and angels circle around the Shrine of the Báb in adoration and spoke about it at length. The thought came into the mind of General Khazeh “what about Bahjí”. Then the Guardian turned to him and said “and the Báb and the messengers and angels circle around Bahjí”. So I will leave you to make up your own mind if the Guardian could read your thoughts.

The Writings confirm that when we go to the next world we will have an audience with the Prophets and Messengers of the past and we will recount our suffering in the path of service and the things we endured serving the Cause. Friends, if we have not been very busy, then it will be a very short conversation. But imagine the conversation we will have if we devote our lives to the work of the Cause.

This 5 Year Plan is really something extraordinary. Although it is still praiseworthy to arise and serve in another land—there is a special blessing when we move to another country—there is so much to do in our own local neighbourhoods – devotionals, children’s classes, study circles and junior youth activities. During the 10 Year Crusade the goals were all about arising to serve in another country. Now we’re in a new phase of the Cause. Bill Sears was a very humorous man; if you read God Loves Laughter you will see that for yourself. He used to send cartoons during the 10 Year Crusade to encourage the friends. In one he depicts a poor pioneer on a tiny island the size of this stage with a single palm tree on it. He is in rags and is looking pretty miserable with nothing around him. Then a bottle with a note washes up on the shore. He opens the bottle and reads the note. It says “Persevere. Shoghi”.

We are very close to achieving 1500 IPGs around the world – the House hopes to announce this at Ridván. We need to see. This Plan has really stretched the Bahá’í community. I don’t think in the next Plan we will be doubling the number of IPGs – the Bahá’í community has been really stretched, we need to consolidate. I do not know what is in the next Plan – the House is discussing elements of it now.

Q: What was it like when you were elected to the Universal House of Justice (1988)?

A: Well I was shell-shocked standing up on the stage. After a minute or two the person with the highest number of votes whispered “we need to meet in Room 207”. So in this state we walked off stage and went to this room. He said we have a cable from the Israeli Government that we need to address. Welcome to the two new members. Let’s start with a prayer, and they were into it. That was it. The person presented the issue; someone said we need to consider this. Someone else said what about this and that. Another said we should not go too far in terms of something else. Then there was a brief silence, and then they got up and said, that’s it. I was amazed. There was no vote. They knew that was the decision of the House as no one else had anything else to say. The consultation of the House is very fast.

Q: A question about who are the Knights of Bahá’u’lláh today?

A: There are none, but I think I know what you are referring to. Shoghi Effendi told May Maxwell that there are heroes and saints in the Cause. He said that not all the heroes were saints – they had imperfections like you and me. But all the saints were heroes. We need to arise and serve and become heroes of the Cause.

Q: What was your greatest test serving at the Bahá’í World Centre

A: (After some time in thought) well there is not one that stands out – there were so many. One is thinking “am I being useful?” -- especially coming from the pioneering field. When the International Teaching Centre was first appointed there was not so much to do, it was a new institution. On the House, I sometimes sit in my Office and just read letters all day, initial correspondence and so on. But it needs to be done.

Friends, the members of the Universal House of Justice carry a great burden. There is no need to pray for the Universal House of Justice. It is under the care and protection of both Bahá’u’lláh and the Blessed Báb. But please pray for the members of the Universal House of Justice. We need your prayers. We pray for you at the Shrines. If a special request comes through for health or a special need, the believer is mentioned by name – I do not know how long this can continue for – there will come a time when the House may need to say we offer prayers on behalf of all those who have asked for prayers.

Q: When will the situation in Iran change?

A: Well we do not know. A lot of us thought that the situation would have come to a head by now. The mullás are shaky, but they are still there. God has a plan. We do not know what it is – we know the end game – the complete emancipation of the Faith in Iran, but we do not know the middle game at all. We have to wait and see how things unfold. But it is amazing how the previous falsehoods spread about the Faith have been wiped out of the consciousness of the people of Iran – they no longer believe what they are told, especially the educated and the intellectuals. Who could have believed this group of academics and prominent people writing a letter of apology for not standing up for the rights of the Bahá’ís.

Q: With the increase of work and when we have entry by troops, when will the number of members on the House increase?

A: Well my personal view is that it won’t – although there is provision for the number to increase to 19. The House members have secretary-aides, and they have aides, and there are committees which sort out a lot of the work – the House will find new ways to operate. (jokingly) It is hard enough to get consensus amongst 9 people let alone 19!

Other comments during the talk

• Shoghi Effendi used to say that the believers think that the Cause needs them. This is not so. It is the believers who need the Cause.

• Imam Ali has said that in terms of our material life, we should live it as if we are going to live forever. In terms of our spiritual lives, we should live it as if we are going to die tonight.

• Mr Dunbar represented Nicaragua in the election of the House of Justice in 1963.

• He was asked if he would start tutoring for the Institute Board in a town near where he will live. He hid his face in his suit coat and responded that he will be in semi-retirement – after all the House said he was of advanced age. He hopes to travel, especially to South and Central America, but he will decide what he does.

• Sometimes we are tested over and over again until we cry out: “Bahá’u’lláh – I can’t do this on my own. You need to help me.” He finds a way of helping us pass the test but then He lines up another one for us.

• It was a privilege being with the Hands of the Cause (he became emotional at this time). We miss them so much. With the passing of Dr. Varqá the Faith entered a new stage. I learnt so much from the Hands. Once a group of them were discussing why they thought each other had been appointed a Hand – they were looking at whether they could find a way to continue the function of the Hands (Note: This was before Counsellors and the International Teaching Centre were appointed). They realised that each one was so different – they could not find similarities at all. They came to the conclusion that the only thing they had in common was their devotion to the beloved Guardian. Complete and utter dedication and devotion is what they had in common. There were his “Hands” – the instruments he used to do the work of the Cause.

Note: These notes do not do justice at all to the force of the comments of Mr. Dunbar, his insights, humour, and to the emotion that was raised in the hearts of the believers present. Some statements appear bland when I write them down, but they were profound when delivered. He was very emotional during sections of the talk and showed such a love for the pilgrims that we wept at the end. He received a rousing standing ovation at the end of the presentation.