I’m going to stick my neck out here and offer some advice to newcomers to Meher Baba, and some of it also involves older Baba lovers in their relationships with newcomers. Of course, you should feel free to totally ignore all of it, although parts of it might prove useful. Some of it comes out of my own experience, some of it from other people’s experience and some from Meher Baba himself, who sometimes had to intervene on behalf of his young followers.
Now, there is also the question of how you, who have been around for a while, tell someone about Meher Baba. The people who told me about Baba were very sensitive to my being a Catholic and they led up slowly to telling me who he was. You’d think I’d have learned from that approach, but I didn’t. I went one day in the late ’50s with one of the friends who had told me about Baba to see a friend of hers. The woman had company at the time, a female New York City narcotics officer. The woman asked my friend, “How is Meher Baba?”
The narcotics officer turned to me and asked, “Who’s Meher Baba?”
No hesitation on my part. “He’s the Christ.”
The poor woman went right over backwards in her chair and hit her head on the floor. I have no idea what happened to her as I never saw her again. But the memory of that incident horrified me and made me hesitate for a long time afterwards when someone asked me who Meher Baba was. When I moved to Myrtle Beach I asked Kitty Davy what she said when someone asked about Baba. “I just ask them why they want to know,” she said. If they’re not really interested, she said, they’d drop the subject.
One day I was taking some photographs for a local realtor and she asked me who Meher Baba was. Why do you want to know?” I said. “I just want to know,” she said.
“Well,” I said, “he’s a great spiritual teacher.”
“But who is he?”
“He’s what in India is called a Perfect Master.”
“But who is he?”
I gave up. “He’s the Christ.”
Her face broke into a beatific smile and she said triumphantly, “I knew that. I just wanted you to tell me.”
Obviously, one has to play this sort of thing by ear. I’ve just never had a very good ear for it.
But many Baba lovers do. They have an uncanny knack for seeing the possibilities in other people and so they, as an old friend of mine said, “go fishing.” Jesus had one fisherman, Peter. Meher Baba seems to have hundreds of them.
As for advice for newcomers themselves, the best place to start is with Meher Baba himself. There’s a brief paragraph in a 1969 pamphlet called LIFE IS A JEST, and it grabbed my attention early on. It speaks of a time when Baba told members of the Pune Baba group: “Don’t try to bind My lovers with discipline and regulations. Let them have free scope and free play. Suppose you want to write a love letter full of effusion to your beloved. Will you like your letters to pass through some old one in the house?” Being curious about the circumstances of that edict, I asked one of the mandali about it. Apparently some older members of the Pune group had set themselves up as mentors to younger members, and had become somewhat smothering. Baba heard about it, called the group to Guruprasad, and made the above statement. I heard that story with great glee and I’ve never forgotten it.
The point is if you’re new to Baba, run from self-appointed mentors, and if you’re an older Baba lover, don’t be a self-appointed mentor. The phrase “self-appointed” is key here. If you choose a mentor, then that’s your business. However, you might want to find one who will point you in the right direction, not lead you. “Leaders” tend to grow to such size that they eclipse the view of the goal you had when you started.
A similar piece of advice came from Adi Irani, Meher Baba’s mandali and longtime secretary. While waiting for a flight out of India one year, I went to hear Adi talk to the Mumbai Baba group. He talked for two hours in Marathi and of course I couldn’t understand a word. After the talk, he came up to me and said, “I’ll tell you in one sentence what I took two hours to tell them: once you’ve told someone about Meher Baba, get out of the way.”
I have always been grateful to the two people who told me about Baba for doing exactly that. They told me about him, one took me to Myrtle Beach for my first visit, they loaned me books and gave me Meher Baba’s address in India, they introduced me to the New York Monday Night Baba Group, they sent me to India to meet Baba (note that they didn’t “take” me to meet him), and then told me I was on my own. I think now that it was an extraordinary thing to do and quite rare.
Occasionally, I ran into similar advice during the next 10 or 15 years. When I moved to Myrtle Beach in 1970, Kitty Davy said to me, “Now you turn inside to Baba, you follow your intuition with him and you don’t let anyone else tell you what to do.” Good advice for anyone, I think.
Basically, though, there are some things you — a newcomer — can do to develop your own relationship with Meher Baba without following someone else’s lead. For instance, read, read, read, and then read some more. Of course, read DISCOURSES and GOD SPEAKS. But if you want to know what Meher Baba was really like, how he handled different situations and how he treated different people, then look for the stories by people who spent time with him, some of them for many years. Listen to the audio and video tapes of these stories. Meher Baba’s life is probably the best documented of any Avatar’s life. And listen to other people’s stories of how they came to Baba and how it’s affected their lives. All of those things, plus just thinking about him as much as possible, will start you on your way.
If you’re a Baba lover who has been around for a while, it’s very helpful to new people if you can remember what it was like when you first found Meher Baba. Remember the patience on the part of older Baba lovers? Remember that they delighted in your “honeymoon” state without interfering with it? Remember the people who answered your endless questions so patiently? Remember how they welcomed you to Baba gatherings? Can you do the same for today’s newcomers?
And when you come right down to it, just how sure are you that a newcomer is that “new?” Considering the millions of lifetimes we’ve all been through, that newcomer you may dismiss so easily and unthinkingly might very well be far older than you in Meher Baba’s love. As Meher Baba once said, there are people who have never heard his name who are closer to him than his closest disciples. That’s a very useful thought to keep in the back of your mind when relating to newcomers.