The Unfoldment of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, 1916–2021: An Essay by Drs. Amin Banani and Robert H. Stockman
The Wilmette Institute continues to honor the one hundredth anniversary of the revelation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan revealed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in 1916–17. This month we are reprinting (by permission of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States) the eloquent Foreword that Dr. Amin Banani, professor emeritus of Persian history and literature at UCLA (he passed away in 2013), wrote for the 1976 edition of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Supreme Charter for Teaching. Because the Foreword was written in the 1970s in the middle of 1974–1979 Five Year Plan, we asked Dr. Robert H. Stockman to write two paragraphs (printed in italic type at the end of Dr. Banani’s essay) to bring the series of plans up to the current Five Year Plan (2016–21). After you read this account of the unfoldment of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, you may want to revisit a short article on the receipt and publication of the initial Tablets, in the March 2016 issue of the Wilmette Institute’s eNewsletter. You will definitely want to reread the two letters that the Universal House of Justice send on March 26, 2016: One is addressed “To the Baha’is of the World acting under the Mandate of `Abdu’l-Baha.” The other one is addressed “To the chosen recipients of `Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablets of the Divine Plan, the Baha’is of the United States and the Baha’is of Canada.”
In several letters and in God Passes By Shoghi Effendi has left us moving accounts of the circumstances in which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá revealed the Tablets of the Divine Plan as well as profound insights into the continuously emerging significance of these Tablets which he has characterized as the “mandate” and the “supreme charter for teaching.” A perusal of such passages from the writings of Shoghi Effendi leaves no doubt that the Tablets of the Divine Plan were a direct consequence of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to America and a final link in the chain of love and care which bound Him to the friends on this continent. It is entirely appropriate and enormously helpful, therefore, to preface this edition of Tablets of the Divine Plan with the words of the beloved Guardian:
The seeds which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s activities so lavishly scattered had endowed the United States and Canada, nay the entire continent, with potentialities such as it had never known in its history. On the small band of His trained and beloved disciples, and through them on their descendants, He, through that visit, had bequeathed a priceless heritage—a heritage which carried with it the sacred and primary obligation to arise and carry on in that fertile field the work He had so gloriously initiated. We can dimly picture to ourselves the wishes that must have welled from His eager heart as He bade His last farewell to that promising country. An inscrutable Wisdom, we can well imagine Him remark to His disciples on the eve of His departure, has, in His infinite bounty singled out your native land for the execution of a mighty purpose. Through the agency of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant I, as the ploughman, have been called upon since the beginning of my ministry to turn up and break its ground. The mighty confirmations that have, in the opening days of your career, rained upon you have prepared and invigorated its soil. The tribulations you subsequently were made to suffer have driven deep furrows into the field which my hands had prepared. The seeds with which I have been entrusted I have now scattered far and wide before you. Under your loving care, by your ceaseless exertions, every one of these seeds must germinate, every one must yield its destined fruit. A winter of unprecedented severity will soon be upon you. Its storm-clouds are fast gathering on the horizon. Tempestuous winds will assail you from every side. The Light of the Covenant will be obscured through my departure. These mighty blasts, this wintry desolation, shall however pass away. The dormant seed will burst into fresh activity. It shall put forth its buds, shall reveal, in mighty institutions, its leaves and blossoms. The vernal showers which the tender mercies of my heavenly Father will cause to descend upon you will enable this tender plant to spread out its branches to regions far beyond the confines of your native land. And finally the steadily mounting sun of His Revelation, shining in its meridian splendor, will enable this mighty Tree of His Faith to yield, in the fullness of time and on your soil, its golden fruit.
The implications of such a parting message could not long remain unrevealed to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s initiated disciples. No sooner had He concluded His long and arduous journey across the American and European continents than the tremendous happenings to which He had alluded began to be made manifest. A conflict, such as He had predicted, severed for a time all means of communication with those on whom He had come to place such implicit trust and from whom He was expecting so much in return. The wintry desolation, with all its havoc and carnage, pursued during four years its relentless course, while He, repairing to the quiet solitude of His residence in the close neighborhood of Bahá’u’lláh’s hallowed shrine, continued to communicate His thoughts and wishes to those whom He had left behind and on whom He had conferred the unique tokens of His favor. In the immortal Tablets which, in the long hours of His communion with His dearly-beloved friends He was moved to reveal, He unfolded to their eyes His conception of their spiritual destiny, His Plan for the mission He wished them to undertake. The seeds His hands had sown He was now watering with that same care, that same love and patience, which had characterized His previous endeavors whilst He was laboring in their midst.
In God Passes By Shoghi Effendi tells us that during the Great War ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
felt acutely the virtual stoppage of all communication with most of the Bahá’í centers throughout the world. Agony filled His soul at the spectacle of human slaughter precipitated through humanity’s failure to respond to the summons He had issued, or to heed the warnings He had given. Surely sorrow upon sorrow was added to the burden of trials and vicissitudes which He, since His boyhood, had borne so heroically for the sake, and in the service, of His Father’s Cause.
And yet during these somber days, the darkness of which was reminiscent of the tribulations endured during the most dangerous period of His incarceration in the prison-fortress of ‘Akká, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, whilst in the precincts of His Father’s Shrine, or when dwelling in the House He occupied in ‘Akká, or under the shadow of the Báb’s sepulcher on Mt. Carmel, was moved to confer once again, and for the last time in His life, on the community of His American followers a signal mark of His special favor by investing them, on the eve of the termination of His earthly ministry, through the revelation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, with a world mission, whose full implications even now, after the lapse of a quarter of a century [1921–1944], still remain undisclosed, and whose unfoldment thus far, though as yet in its initial stages, has so greatly enriched the spiritual as well as the administrative annals of the first Bahá’í century.
The first eight of these Tablets were penned between March 26 and April 22, 1916. History records this period as one of awesome bloodletting in Europe. It is truly breathtaking to contemplate the devising of the Divine Strategy for the redemption of the planet in the midst of the din and destruction of the old order. The transforming vision of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spreads before us the plans for the spiritual conquest of the globe. The final six Tablets were revealed between February 2 and March 8, 1917, barely a month before the entry of the United States into the war. Of the first group five Tablets had actually reached America and been published in the September 8, 1916, issue of Star of the West. After that all communication with the Holy Land was severed, and the remainder of the Tablets were kept in a vault under the Shrine of the Báb on Mt. Carmel for the duration of the war. They were dispatched to America at the end of the war where they were unveiled in befitting ceremonies during the “Convention of the Covenant” held at Hotel McAlpin in New York City on April 26–30, 1919. Although exemplary individuals like the Dunnes and Martha Root had given immediate response to the call of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for “souls who will illumine this dark universe and quicken to life this dead world,” the full implementation of the Plan began in 1937 when Shoghi Effendi conferred on the North American Bahá’í community the mission of the First Seven Year Plan—”The first stage of that enterprise, which had been held in abeyance, for well nigh twenty years, while the administrative institutions of the Faith were slowly taking shape and were being perfected.”
The spiritual conquest of the Western Hemisphere—completed by 1944, the centennial of the birth of our Faith—was not the only fruit of that First Seven Year Plan. It served as a working model of the systematic process by which the beloved Guardian was guiding the Bahá’í world toward the realization of the Master’s vision. Regional plans of pioneering were entrusted the friends in the East even before the end of the Second World War.
The Second Seven Year Plan spanning the years 1946–53 gave the valiant North American Bahá’í community the task of the spiritual revitalization of Europe, ravaged once more by devastation and desolation of war.
The grand stage in the unfolding realization of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Divine Plan was ushered in by the beloved Guardian in 1953, the eve of the hundredth anniversary of Bahá’u’lláh’s prophetic revelations in the Síyáh-Chál of Tihrán, with the inception of the Ten Year Crusade. Although several national Bahá’í communities had already undertaken pioneering Plans of their own before 1953, now for the first time the entire Bahá’í world was given a share in the fulfillment of the goals of the Master’s Plan by being woven into one mighty Crusade for planting the banner of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh on the entire planet.
The Nine and the Five Year Plans (1964–1973; 1974–1979) of The Universal House of Justice may be seen as the successive steps in the inexorable and triumphant march of the armies of Bahá’u’lláh to the call sounded in the Tablets of the Divine Plan. During all these momentous accomplishments, and the epochs yet to come, the loving voice of the Master heard so movingly in the prayers which accompany these Tablets, shall remain as our source of inspiration and confirmation.
Following the Seven Year Plan (1979–1986), the Universal House of Justice announced that a new epoch—the fourth of the Formative Age—had dawned, in which National Spiritual Assemblies themselves would set their own goals and objectives within a framework devised by the Head of the Faith. The result was the Six Year Plan (1986–1992). It was followed by the Holy Year of 1992, commemorating the centenary of the ascension of Bahá’u’lláh, and the Three Year Plan (1993–1996).
In 1996 the Universal House of Justice noted that the Four Year Plan (1996–2000) would focus on one major accomplishment: a significant advance in the process of entry by troops. This became the overriding focus of the following Twelve Month Plan (2000–2001) and the next four Five Year Plans (2001–2006; 2006–2011; 2011–2016; 2016–2021). They constitute the Fifth Epoch of the Formative Age, which the Universal House of Justice says will culminate with the Centenary of the Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the end of the first century of the Formative Age of the Faith. During those four plans, a series of institutions and agencies were devised and implemented to provide the framework for entry by troops: regional councils in large national communities; worldwide regional training institutes; clusters; core activities (devotional programs, children’s classes, junior youth classes, and study circles, for which Ruhi books serve worldwide as the standard curriculum); quarterly cluster reflection meetings to guide three-month cycles of growth; and Area Teaching Committees to guide clusters. In addition, systematic efforts were made to learn what works in advanced clusters in order to guide the progress of less-advanced clusters. The result is a solid foundation for the “herculean labor” called for by the Universal House of Justice in the last of the four Five Year Plans: raising the number of clusters worldwide where a program of growth has become intensive to 5,000 by Ridván 2021.
—Robert H. Stockman