A Bakhtiyari from the village of Borujen, Chahar Mahal, Persia, Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar was a man of great physical strength and character who struggled to obtain knowledge, loved science and poetry, a spiritual warrior of high moral character. Abol Ghassem died in 1971 at the age of 99. He is buried in Tus, Iran, because of a dream he had that one day his earth would mix with the earth of Ferdowsi, the great epic poet of Iran, and a hero would be born to save Iran.
Abol Ghassem came into the world with nothing of material value, inheriting a Sufi cloak and a dervish bowl from his father. He evolved from a peddler, to a shopkeeper, to a tutor, to a student,to an M.D., to a hospital director, to Dean of the Tehran University Medical School, to Chief Surgeon for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. He was the first Iranian to complete medical school in the United States and return to Iran in 1931. He and his American wife, Helen Jeffreys, the first American to marry an Iranian in the United States and go to Iran, had 7 children.
They were divorced. Abol married a Bakhtiyari woman and had 10 more children. After a century of struggle, hard work and education, Abol Ghassem left this world with nothing of material value. His legacy for one and all is to educate yourself, to persevere through difficult times, to be good to others, to love and to be loved, and to live life to the fullest, with plenty of fresh air, daily exercises, a clean body and mind stimulated with mythical and mystical poetry.
The following is an introduction to “Abol Ghassem of Tus: The Epic Journey of Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar, M.D.” (Institute of Traditionnal Psychology, 2003) by his son Jamshid A. Bakhtiar. This book compliments an earlier volume about Abol Ghassem's American wife, “Helen of Tus: Her Odyssey from Idaho to Iran” [review]. For more information about the books go to bakhtiar.org. To order, go here.
Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar, M. D., this is your epic journey on earth. What a life! What a beginning! What accomplishments! What tragedies, what courage, what perseverance, what a sense of humor, what consistency, what pride and what determination! All of your children, all seventeen of us, God willing (Cyrus and Jomi, if alive, would agree) devote this book to you, your life, your memories, and to your epic journey.
As your oldest son, I feel a special bond with you. It is my task to do you honor for the entire family, to respect your life and to be an audience to your journey, some of which I shared in the theater of life with you. Each one of us children will contribute our experiences and our memories in your honor in this book in order to document your life, and your spirit so that others will learn the meaning of courage, goal setting and integrity.
Why is your journey epic? It is epic because it is larger than life. It has archetypal significance. It is the universal story of all heroes throughout history. At a spiritual-symbolic level, it is not merely a passage through space, but an urgent desire for discovery, change and movement to transcend daily events and have a connection to the timeless journey of life. In the face of death, you found a purpose.
As we recognize your early life with all its tribulations, short comings, in the early loss of your mother and your father, we see the hardships you endured growing up in a remote village in the Bakhtiyari mountains of Iran called Borujen where you mended shoes, sold groceries, and were a traveling merchant. You were born and grew up amidst a proud but economically strapped family.
You were exposed to the Bakhtiyari tribe's migration and its tribal leaders. You experienced early Islamic education in the traditional school with harsh punishment and strict discipline. You had a beautiful voice which you used to call the faithful to prayer from the minaret of the local mosque. Your father was instrumental in opening your inner world to the mystical path of Sufism. Many of your relatives in Borujen were members of the ancient esoteric order of Sufism. You were exposed to the teaching of the Masters of the Path. You developed the heart of the Sufi in your love for Sufi poetry.
Your epic journey was not complete in Borujen. You had a life force instinct to study, to inquire, to seed and to live with an intensity to surpass the environmental limitations of the small village of Borujen. You developed a calligrapher's penmanship by copying over and over again letters of the Bakhtiyari khan (leader) that had been answered and discarded. A special person aided you in your writing, but the motivation came from within you.
As a budding hero, a lion in Bakhtiyari folklore, you were restless, unsatisfied, seeking and transcending. Your mind, like a magnet, was attracted to the poetry of Abol Ghassem Ferdowsi, the epic poem of the Book of Kings (Shahnameh), written in the 10th century–the Iranian version of the Greek Odyssey of Homer. Your mind was activated by the poems of heroes of the Persian culture–Rostam and Kay Khosroe. Through them, your aspirations and hopes were ignited. You memorized thousands of lines of Sufi poetry. In them you identified with the hero's journey of seeking and traveling and a longing to realize your potential in this life.
An opportunity presented itself by the Bakhtiyari Bibi Mah Begum, the wife of Morteza Qoli Khan, son of Samsam Saltaneh. It was not enough for your to experience Islam, Sufism and the great poetry of Ferdowsi. You had to be practical and realistic. You needed knowledge, science and education to complete your life. Your epic journey was evolutionary. You sought once again to transcend your limited environment.
You started in the darkness of the small world of Borujen and occasionally saw glimmers of light. You were now ready for the ordeals of furthering your heroic journey, but were unable to anticipate all of the obstacles and the ending of the journey. You had faith in yourself to plunge in the path of your life. You always knew that the principle of the farr was accompanying your life. The farr is that divine presence that pervades the life of the hero. The Book of Kings (Shahnameh) alludes to this principle to explain the exemplary lives of heroes.
The Simorgh–the mythical bird of the Shahnameh–became a subconscious motivation, instilling in you the passion for seeking your goals. Its presence in your life was a symbol of the Quest. It is a symbol of the ascension of the human soul and a message of God to strive for excellence in this life. Farid al-Din Attar's epic poem, The Conference of the Birds (Mantiq al-tayr), alludes to Simorgh as the symbol of the true self, dissolving false selves and, through the experience one achieves gnosis, i.e., an experience of God's presence in one's life, giving one bountiful energy to achieve God's destiny.
You were groping towards the light. You were in a maze, in a world unaware of its own reflectiveness or ability to problem solve or seek answers to its suffering: Borujen, the Bakhtiyaris, part of the journey ended at one level, but always remained in your memories of past early life suffering and also the opportunities of finding your way to your life's tasks. Abol Ghassem Ferdowsi, your hero, kept coming back to your life, in moments of peace and moments of crises. Other great poets of Iran, such as Hafez and Saadi, added to your repertoire of faith, meaning and models of life's purpose.
Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar, M. D., you found yourself first in Isfahan and then in Tehran because you were the tutor of children of the family of the Bakhtiyari leader, Samsam Saltaneh, who first became governor of Isfahan and then Prime Minister in Tehran. This led you to a Christian school in Tehran in 1912. You found another worldly teacher, Samuel Martin Jordan. You were 40 years old and enrolled in school with 11 and 12 year olds.
You humbled yourself. You did your tasks. You finished twelve years of academic work in six years and graduated from Dr. Jordan's American Mission School, later called Alborz. The ordeals and trials of your journey were given fruition. Your relentless energy and aspirations were not satisfied. Your pilgrimage to the “center” was still in process. You became aware that you were not an ordinary man; you realized you were Bakhtiar–bakht yar–a “friend of good fortune.”
The famine of 1918 in Tehran, Iran, presented you an opportunity to come to America–the land of opportunity. Again your fate was being sealed, only because you were prepared to take the opportunity of the choices presented to you. Wayne Sarcka, Samuel Martin Jordan and Leland Rex Robinson all helped you on your way to America and to getting settled in New York City. They saw a light in your eyes, those eyes that sought, gave power and told messages of your journey that no one or any obstacle could prevent you from reaching your goal of becoming a doctor.
You came to America. You attended college; Columbia, Iowa, and South Dakota Universities, finally graduating from Syracuse University Medical School in 1926. The stages of your journey kept presenting you hardships, barriers, but your colleagues and your teachers recognized your destiny, your faith, and your farr to overcome any obstacles. You were not diverted by worldly events because you had a task ahead of you. You singlemindedly kept fit physically, spiritually, psychologically, and morally and you were determined to live out your destiny.
You met and married Helen Jeffreys in 1927 in New York City. She had traveled from Weiser, Idaho, to teach nursing in New York City. You fell madly in love and she fell madly in love with you. You both were on the same journey, heroine and hero, a match that you in your wildest imagination never thought possible. From Borujen to Shalamzar to Isfahan to Tehran to New York City and Helen from Weiser, Idaho to Los Angeles, California, to New York City.
Your teacher, Dr. Maynard, helped you learn the art of medicine-surgery at Bellevue Medical Center in New York City. You and Helen married and had two children–Lailee and Shireen. Then an invitation from Reza Shah for you to return to Iran– hero and his heroine. You never hesitated. You were the product of Borujen, Bakhtiyar, Islam, Sufism, Ferdowsi, Saadi and Hafez with the heart of a Sufi; a man of the earth. you returned to your origins. Helen, inspired by your stories and heroine on a journey of her own, returned with you.
Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar, M. D., who could have imagined that you would become a professor in the Medical School in Tehran, and later the Dean of the Medical School and the first Iranian to complete American training as a physician and return to Iran. You were born in 1872, finished high school in 1918, at the age of 46 and then another twelve years of study to be a specialist in general surgery at the age of 54. Your return to Iran was the beginning of modern medicine in Iran and another step in your destiny and journey. Many physicians were to follow your example and contribute to the people of Iran.
Most people think of retirement in their sixties, but you, Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar, M. D., were not finished yet. Fifteen more children followed the first two, Lailee and Shireen. After your accomplishments at Tehran University, you went to Abadan in 1940 as chief surgeon with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company for two years. Then you went to MIS (Masjid-i Solayman, Solayman's Mosque), in the Bakhtiyari tribe's winter quarters for another five years and then back to Abadan for sixteen years.
Helen, your beloved wife, had to leave Iran in 1939 because of Reza Shah's inclining towards Germany so that it was not safe for Americans to be in Iran. She went to Los Angeles to see her family after having been in Iran for eight years. World War II broke out and separated the family for six years. Lailee, Shireen, and Mary Nell were with Helen in California, while Paree, Parveen, Cyrus and Jamshid stayed with you in Iran.
You suffered the separation. You kept striving. You sang your Ferdowsi poems. You read Saadi and Hafez in between visiting patients, and patiently waited. In 1945, the end of World War II, Helen and the children came back from America. After several months, all seven of your children, Lailee, Shireen, Paree, Parveen, Jamshid, Cyrus and Mary Nell returned to America, awaiting your coming. But events of World War II and the Iranian government would not allow the issue of a passport for doctors. You and Helen were to divorce.
You married a young Bakhtiyari woman, Bibi Turan Zargham, in 1946. You returned to the roots of your Bakhtiyari origins. You and Turan were to have ten children. You named the first seven children similar to the seven children you had with Helen–Lailee-Lili, Shireen-Shirley; Parveen and Paree-Parvaneh; Jamshid-Jomi; Cyrus-Pirouz; and Mary Nell-Nilufar (later, Gohar).
You sent the children in America letters, your love and your inspiration. Several of your American-Iranian children visited you in Iran between 1951 and 1971. Helen visited you and your new family often while she was working in Iran as a Public Health Nurse Midwife for Truman's Point Four program. Your heroic journey continued, even though filled with pitfalls and obstacles. You managed to regain strength again, fortified by the way of your ancestors–to carry on.
Your private practice of general medicine and surgery continued after 1949 in Abadan. You were now 77 years old, weather beaten, having suffered losses, tragedies, and overwhelming stressors. All could not keep you down. Your access to the farr and the symbolism of the Simorgh and your mystical path of Sufism kept you hopeful as well as energized. You continued writing letters to the children in America, each letter filled with a richness of love and courage.
You, Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar, M. D., were determined to leave your genetic line, while you were sensing the end of your terrestrial journey. You named your last child Rahmat Abol Ghassem, born in 1963, when you were 91 years old. Your manifest existence was ending. You had now come a complete circle–your heroic journey was nearing completion. You reflected on your life and realized that Abol Ghassem Ferdowsi had been the catalyst of your life.
You wanted to be buried near Ferdowsi's tomb in Tus, having had a dream that one day your earth would mix with the earth of Ferdowsi and a Rostam would be born to save Iran. Your fate, as always, was at your service. Behjat Moshiri, a former patient whose husband's family owned the village of Tus, gave you the grave site for your eventual burial. You are at Tus now. Next to you is your beloved Helen, who wanted to be part of your dream in the next life, as well, and your son, Cyrus, who died two years after you and Helen.
You reached the eighth stage of life according to Erik H. Erickson: “Only in him who in some way has taken care of things and people and has adapted himself to the triumphs and disappointments adherent in being, the originator of others of the generator of products and ideals, only in him may gradually ripen the fruit of these seven stages–that is, integrity. Your productivity for order and meaning.”
Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar, M. D., you shall live on in your children and all the generations to come as a beacon of light to carry on the torch of being a seeker of knowledge, inner and outer, as well as for your love (spiritual-heart knowledge) for our humanity. As a hero, you fought the forces of the outer world (lesser battle–jihad asghar) and the forces of the inner world (greater battle–jihad akbar). You overcame the forces of darkness and found the light.
Thank you, Dad, our dear father, our Baba Jan, for your love and kindness, and most of all for your being a model of integrity. “Whoever travels without a guide needs two hundred years for a two day journey”(Jalal al-Din Rumi). You were our guide–“there is no god, but God” (la ilaha illa Lah).