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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

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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3 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.

  3. Sen said

    USBN [=US Bahai Newsletter] for No. 59 – February 1932 – page 8

    Letter received by the Publishing Committee

    Persian Colony
    Haifa, Palestine

    Dear Mrs. Little:

    Shoghi Effendi wishes me to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, written on behalf of the Publishing Committee, regarding the Publication of the “Divine Art of Living .

    Shoghi Effendi has laid down a principal that the Bahá’ís should not attribute much importance to talks, reported to have been given by the Master, if there have not in one form or another obtained His sanction.

    Bahá’u’lláh has made it clear enough that only those things that have been revealed in the form of Tablets have a binding power over the friends. Hearsays may be matters of interest but can in no way claim authority. This basic teaching of Bahá’u’lláh was to preserve the Faith from being corrupted like Islam which attributes binding authority to all the reported sayings of Muhammad.

    This being a basic principle of the Faith we should not confuse Tablets that were actually revealed and mere talks attributed to the founders of the Cause. The first have absolute binding authority while the latter can in no way claim our obedience. The highest thing this can achieve is to influence the activities of the one who has heard the saying in person.

    Those talks of the Master that were later reviewed by Him and corrected or in some other form considered authentic by Himself, such as the “Some Answered “Questions , these could be considered as Tablets and therefore be given the necessary binding power. All the other talks such as are included in Ahmad’s diary or the other diaries of pilgrims, do not fall under this category and could be considered only as interesting material to be taken for what they are worth.

    For this reason Shoghi Effendi has not been encouraging the publication of reported sayings that were not authenticated by the Master Himself. Shoghi Effendi is trying to prevent the friends from considering as actual words of the Master things that were not authenticated by Him.

    Now in so far as the “Divine Art of Living is concerned, some of the friends wrote Shoghi Effendi and stated that the book is very much liked, so he did permit its publication in its old form. The question, however, totally changes when the plates no more exist. He would surely not advise you to undertake that expense at this time and bring out a book where authentic and non-authentic material is hopelessly confused. It greatly detracts from the worth of a book to have in it quotations from Tablets which are absolutely binding and reported sayings that have no authority.

    In closing may I assure you of Shoghi Effendi’s prayers and best wishes and assure you of his loving greetings.

    Yours ever sincerely

    (Signed) Ruhi Afnan.

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