By Ann Conlon
This column, intended to appear here twice a month, will wander from pillar to post, depending on what strikes my fancy, but it will always be focused on Meher Baba. It may be memories of times with Meher Baba or his mandali. It may be comments on what is happening in the Baba world today, or what I wish was — or wasn’t — happening in the Baba world today. It may be recommendations for Baba books I personally love. It certainly will be subjective and opinionated.
In this initial column, I want to talk about being with Meher Baba in India in the early 1960s. I’m not going to tell the whole story here, but rather choose some moments that have stayed with me strongly over the years.
We’ve all heard stories about people asking Baba for what they wanted, his declining, their pushing, his finally giving in. This story is about one such incident, with a result, I’m sure, that was lost on the one who “pushed.” During the 1961 Sahavas, one of Baba’s long time followers asked permission to make a speech, even though Baba had already said he wanted none. Baba declined permission, the man continued to plead, and Baba finally gave in. There was a little three or four-year-old boy sitting close to Baba’s feet and the moment the man began to talk, Baba started wiggling his toes at the little boy. A thousand pairs of eyes went immediately to the boy and Baba’s feet, and no one heard a word of the man’s speech.
The point: the Baba follower was happy, but it was Baba who got his way. For all its impact, the man might just as well have never spoken. It has made me often wonder, when I think I’ve gotten my way, if he isn’t really getting His and, like that follower in 1961, I’m just too self-absorbed to see it.
Those who met Baba in the body, out of real conviction or just out of kindness, have gotten used to saying to those who did not meet him, “But you’ve met him in your own way; it’s all the same.” Well, it isn’t. But in one respect, in Baba’s own words, it’s not the same in a way quite different than what you might expect.
On the day I first met Meher Baba in 1961, he asked me if I knew why St. Francis loved Jesus more than Peter did.
I said, “No, Baba.”
Baba said, “It was because Francis never met Jesus; his love and his longing was that much greater.”
Think about it: who comes out higher up on the “I-love-Meher-Baba” scale. The seeker who met him and was instantly overcome by that tangible outpouring of Divine love, or the seeker who never met him but whose heart was so open that Meher Baba promptly moved in? I like to think it’s actually a tie.
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Baba frequently told the story of Mira, a Hindu princess, whose love for Krishna drove her to give up her royal and wealthy life to spend her years wandering and telling people about her Lord Krishna. When Baba told me about her in 1961, I had never heard of her. He told me who she was and then twice said, “Mira never put anyone or anything between herself and Krishna.” That statement struck me very powerfully and I took it as an order. In all the years since, it has sent my antennae quivering whenever I thought I was getting close to doing that or I thought someone else was trying to place themselves between me and Baba. I’m sure there have been times over the years when I’ve over-reacted to others’ attempts just to be kind or to express interest, but I figure better paranoid than naive.
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And then there was the question of “God Speaks.”
“Have you read it?” he asked.
I had tried, because Baba had asked every family to own one copy and had asked everyone to read it.
Somewhat embarrassed by the question, I told him the truth, “Baba, I tried, but I only got to page 64 and I didn’t understand a word.
I was certainly surprised when Baba threw his hands up in the air, laughed, and signed, “Don’t bother, it’s not important.”
I did not take that to mean that “God Speaks” was not important for anyone, because it certainly has been. I just thought he knew I’d never get through that book, that it simply wasn’t my way. He knew, I’m sure, that my relationship with him had nothing to do with philosophy or theology, and to expect me to struggle though “God Speaks” would be like trying to get blood from a stone. I found the one part of “God Speaks” that made sense to me when I jumped to the supplement and found the line that says, “This book was written to satisfy the convulsions of man’s mind.” What a relief!
Don’t misunderstand; I have the greatest respect for people who have not only read “God Speaks” once but many times and who find tremendous value in it. It was simply that my mind was not having convulsions over the origin or purpose of the universe, but was much more preoccupied with how to make the God-Man an integral part of my life this time around. Perhaps I’ll get to “God Speaks” next lifetime.
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Perhaps the strongest impression of those five days in 1961 is one of love and laughter, certainly the antithesis of a God perceived by many religions as judgmental, angry and punishing.The love Meher Baba poured out during those few short days was overwhelming, filling my cup, overflowing and turning into a river in which I felt I had drowned. Along with that love was a pervasive flow of laughter that permeated every hour that we were with him. Some of it came from his reactions to his lovers’ actions or words, some of it from his lovers’ serious attempts to make him laugh.
He laughed the hardest, I think, on the day when young Baba lovers from Pune presented a skit depicting all the Avatars. The finale came when Baba’s 15-year-old twin nephews, Rustom and Sorab, impersonated Baba and Eruch. They were so perfect in their act, and so funny, that Baba’s laughter brought tears to his eyes. I hope that humor is not lost over the years ahead, that some attempt at turning Baba into a religion doesn’t manage to wipe out one of the most endearing, refreshing and memorable aspects of his human personality. If there is such a thing as sin, then I think losing that humor would be a major transgression, and it will be our fault, and our loss.