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To teach is to learn, is to work, is to serve, etcetera

Posted by Sen on June 2, 2018

A number of Bahai writers and musicians have used a quote attributed to Abdu’l-Baha, which goes “O Lord of the worlds! To teach is to learn, to learn is to work, to work is to serve, to serve is to love, to love is to sacrifice, to sacrifice is to die, to die is to live, to live is to strive, to strive is to rise above all earthly limitations and enter the eternal realms.” Often these words are tacked on the end of a prayer of Abdu’l-Baha contained in a letter to Lua Getsinger. That prayer begins “Thou knowest, O God, and art my witness that I have no desire in my heart save to attain Thy good pleasure, …” or in an older translation “Thou testifiest and Thou knowest in my heart and soul there is no desire except to attain Thy pleasure..”

As for the paragraph “To teach is to learn ...,” I ran an extensive search of Star of the West, internet, internet archives (, pilgrims’ notes etc. and found no cases where this is attributed to anyone but Abdu’l-Baha, and no instance of any reliable source for the words. All I can say from this search is that it appears to be a relatively recent addition to the body of things wrongly attributed to Abdu’l-Baha. I would be delighted if a reader could find the first time it is attributed to Abdu’l-Baha in Bahai literature, or any other source from which it might have been drawn.

As for the authentic prayer to which these words are often attached, a new translation from the Persian is given in Velda Piff Metelmann’s biography Lua Getsinger Herald of the Covenant (1997). She writes “Prayers were revealed for Lua by the Master. … a prayer revealed by ‘Abdu’l-Baha for Lua on March 28, 1905 seems to foreshadow wandering and loneliness for her. … The translation given here is the one Lua knew and used, although a new authorized translation exists.”

In a footnote (p. 71 n.45), Metelmann provides the new translation, made by the Research Department at the Bahai World Centre, which differs significantly from the one Lua Getsinger knew, and from the translation published in the 1980 compilation Quickeners of Mankind (compiled by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada.) The new translation reads :

Thou knowest, O God, and art my witness that I have no desire in my heart save to attain Thy good pleasure, to be confirmed in servitude unto Thee, to consecrate myself in Thy service, in labour in Thy great vineyard and to sacrifice all in Thy path. Thou art the All-Knowing and the All-Seeing. I have no wish save to turn my steps, in my love for Thee, towards the mountains and the deserts to loudly proclaim the advent of Thy Kingdom, and to raise Thy call amidst all men. O God! Open Thou the way for this helpless one, grant Thou the remedy to this ailing one and bestow Thy healing upon this afflicted one. With burning heart and tearful eyes I supplicate Thee at Thy Threshold.
O God! I am prepared to endure any ordeal in Thy path and desire with all my heart and soul to meet any hardship.
O God! Protect me from tests. Thou knowest full well that I have turned away from all things and freed myself of all thoughts. I have no occupation save mention of Thee and no aspiration save serving Thee.

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2 Responses to “To teach is to learn, is to work, is to serve, etcetera”

  1. Tim Watts said

    thou are? Is this a typo? i do hope so!

  2. Sen said

    Thanks, I’ve fixed it. It’s an OCR error.

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