To most people the hardships of prison life would appear as grievous calamities, but for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá they had no terrors. When in prison He wrote: – Grieve not because of my imprisonment and calamity; for this prison is my beautiful garden, my mansioned paradise and my throne of dominion among mankind. My calamity in my prison is a crown to me in which I glory among the righteous. Anyone can be happy in the state of comfort, ease, health, success, pleasure and joy; but if one be happy and contented in the time of trouble, hardship and prevailing disease, that is the proof of nobility.(Marzieh Gail, The Sheltering Branch p. 99-100)
Stanwood Cobb, the renowned educator, wrote, ‘This philosophy of joy was the keynote of all of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s teaching. “Are you happy?” was His frequent greeting to His visitors. “Be happy!” ‘Those who were unhappy (and who of us are not at times!) would weep at this. And ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would smile as if to say, “Yes, weep on. Beyond the tears is sunshine.” ‘And sometimes He would wipe away with His own hands the tears from their wet cheeks, and they would leave His presence transfigured.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 127)
Wendell [Dodge] and I [William Dodge] were so glad to be with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá [in ‘Akka, in 1901]. At some times we were quite jolly. We were mere boys of 18 and 21. Our interpreter, Ameen Fareed, told us that we must be reverent, that when we entered the presence of the Master we must bow our heads, clasp our hands, avoid smiling. Of course we felt the rebuke. So the next time we entered the dining room, our heads were bowed, our hands clasped, and we did not smile. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá passed quickly by us. He seemed to ignore us. We felt further rebuked. Returning to our room we wondered why ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seemed different in His attitude toward us. Well, we decided that we were not good actors. So when we entered the dining room for the next meal, we smiled. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá smiled. He came over to us, took us in his arms and said: “That’s the way I want you, boys, to act—be natural, be happy.” (Excerpt from the transcript of a talk given by William Copeland Dodge relating the account of his pilgrimage to ‘Akka in 1901)
A Persian king was one night in his palace, living in the greatest luxury and comfort. Through excessive joy and gladness he addressed a certain man, saying: “Of all my life this is the happiest moment. Praise be to God, from every point prosperity appears and fortune smiles! My treasury is full and the army is well taken care of. My palaces are many; my land unlimited; my family is well off; my honor and sovereignty are great. What more could I want!” The poor man at the gate of his palace spoke out, saying: “O kind king! Assuming that you are from every point of view so happy, free from every worry and sadness—do you not worry for us? You say that on your own account you have no worries—but do you never worry about the poor in your land? Is it becoming or meet that you should be so well off and we in such dire want and need? In view of our needs and troubles how can you rest in your palace, how can you even say that you are free from worries and sorrows? As a ruler you must not be so egoistic as to think of yourself alone but you must think of those who are your subjects. When we are comfortable then you will be comfortable; when we are in misery how can you, as a king, be in happiness?” The purport is this that we are all inhabiting one globe of earth. In reality we are one family and each one of us is a member of this family. We must all be in the greatest happiness and comfort, under a just rule and regulation which is according to the good pleasure of God, thus causing us to be happy, for this life is fleeting.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 41)
Prison walls themselves did not obscure the happiness in the heart of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. In prison He could write, ‘Grieve not because of my imprisonment and calamity; for this prison is my beautiful garden, my mansioned paradise and my throne of dominion among mankind. My calamity in my prison is a crown to me in which I glory among the righteous.’
At another time He wrote, ‘Anybody can be happy in the state of comfort, ease, health, success, pleasure and joy; but if one will be happy and contented in the time of trouble, hardship and prevailing disease, it is the proof of nobility.’
It is a beautiful thing to realize that life’s experiences did not sour or embitter the Master’s outlook. Tuberculosis at the age of seven, poverty, exile, separation from Bahá’u’lláh, imprisonment, the death of His sons – He endured all these, and more, and remained optimistic and cheerful towards life. He walked nobly in adversity.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 165)
Joseph Hannen records: “On Tuesday, April 23rd, at noon, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed the student-body of more than 1,000, the faculty and a large number of distinguished guests, at Howard University. This was a most notable occasion, and here, as everywhere when both white and colored people were present, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seemed happiest. The address was received with breathless attention by the vast audience, and was followed by a positive ovation and a recall.” (Hannen, “‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Washington, D.C.” p. 7; Agnes Parson’s Diary, p. 29, Footnote 44)
On one occasion two young boys, Shoghi Effendi and his first cousin, Ruhi Effendi, entered the presence of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The Master looked at them thoughtfully and then remarked to Ruhi Effendi, ‘If you can’t wear a happy, pleasant expression on your face like Shoghi Effendi, then you are excused.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 48)
In 1904 and 1907 commissions were appointed by the Turkish Government to inquire into the charges against ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and lying witnesses gave evidence against Him. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, while refuting the charges, expressed His entire readiness to submit to any sentence the tribunal chose to impose. He declared that if they should throw Him into jail, drag Him through the streets, curse Him, spit upon Him, stone Him, heap upon Him all sort of ignominy, hang Him or shoot Him, He would still be happy.
(Marzieh Gail, The Sheltering Branch p. 99-100)
Two pilgrims were at the Master’s luncheon table one day in 1908. He asked them if they were glad to be in Akka and if they were happy. They replied that they were very happy to be there with Him, but unhappy when they thought of their own faults. ‘Think not of yourselves,’ He said, ‘but think of the Bounty of God. This will always make you happy.” Then with a smile He referred to an Arabic saying about the peacock, who ‘is contented because he never looks at his feet – which are very ugly – but always at his plumage which is very beautiful.’
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of “‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
A ‘Mrs C’ was an early believer who went to ‘Akká. She belonged to a wealthy and fashionable group of people in New York. Her life had been conventional and rather unsatisfying. She had been a sincere Christian, but somehow had not gained much comfort from her religion. She had become somewhat melancholy. While travelling abroad, she had learned about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. She eagerly grasped His message and headed to the prison-city. Having arrived, she was fascinated by everything, most especially by the Master. She noticed that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá always greeted her with ‘Be happy!’ The other members of the party were not addressed in the same way by Him. This troubled her. Finally she asked someone to ask the Master why He addressed her in this way. With ‘His peculiarly illuminating smile‘, He replied, ‘I tell you to be happy because we can not know the spiritual life unless we are happy!’ ‘Then Mrs C’s dismay was complete, and her diffidence vanished with the fullness of her despair.
‘"But tell me, what is the spiritual life?” she cried, “I have heard ever since I was born about the spiritual life, and no one could ever explain to me what it is!” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá looked at His questioner again with that wonderful smile of His, and said gently: “Characterize thyself with the characteristics of God, and thou shalt know the spiritual life!"’ – few words, but they were sufficient. The characteristics of God? They must be such attributes as love and beauty, justice and generosity. ‘All day long her mind was flooded with the divine puzzle, and all day long she was happy. She did not give a thought to her duties, and yet when she arrived at the moment of her evening’s reckoning, she could not remember that she had left them undone.
‘At last she began to understand. If she was absorbed in Heavenly ideals, they would translate themselves into deeds necessarily, and her days and nights would be full of light. From that moment she never quite forgot the divine admonition that had been granted her: “Characterize thyself with the characteristics of God!” ‘And she learned to know the spiritual life.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 133)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá always wanted people to be happy. He showed this desire in many ways. He always asked people, “Are you well? Are you happy?” One day in London, the sound of peals of laughter came from the direction of the kitchen. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went quickly to join the happy group. “I am very much pleased that you are so happy,” He said. “Tell me, why are you laughing?” It appeared that the Persian servant was talking to the English housekeeper. The Persian had said, “In the East women wear veils and do all the work,” to which the ENglishwoman had replied, “In the West women don’t wear veils and take good care that the men do at least some of the work. YOu had better get on with cleaning that silver.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá laughed heartily and gave each of them a small gold coin, just for being happy!
(Stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 23, originally from The Chosen Highway by Lady Blomfield 1967.)
The Master wanted people to be happy not only because then they could come to know the spiritual life, but also because in that condition they could make others happy too. Similarly He once told one of His daughters who was to travel with her aunt that she should be a cheerful companion.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 168)
To Mrs Smith, a new Bahá’í, who belonged to a distinguished Philadelphia family and who was suffering with a headache, the Master said, ‘You must be happy always. You must be counted among the people of joy and happiness and must be adorned with divine morals. In a large measure happiness keeps our health while depression of spirit begets diseases. The substance of eternal happiness is spirituality and divine morality, which has no sorrow to follow it.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 129)