Anyone asked you lately what Baba group you belong to? And if you say “I don’t,” how do they react? Perhaps a bit puzzled? And then the conversation either dies or they ask, “Why not?”
There are many answers to that “why not?” Sometimes it’s as simple as “there isn’t one near me” or a bit more complicated as in “well, I went to a couple but . . .”
I remember many years ago, back in the 1950s, I overheard a conversation in which a few Baba lovers were talking about another Baba lover to the effect that “she must have left Baba; she doesn’t come to the Baba meetings anymore.” Didn’t ring true to me; still doesn’t. I don’t know of any rule or even suggestion that one has to “check in” to a Baba group in order to love and follow Meher Baba.
On the other hand, Baba himself did speak several times about groups, once during his 1956 visit to America. There are accounts in the old Awakener magazines and in Lord Meher. Apparently there was some tension between Sufism Reoriented and the NY Monday night group, a bit of a territorial disagreement. Baba spoke to the situation, saying that “for me there is no need for centers for different places, nor different groups, with different heads or names. My center is the heart of every lover. Every lover with a heart that loves Baba is a center. The second point is . . . that whoever wants to work spreading my message of love and truth absolutely needs a central office and groups of workers who can function from the central office. There is always a need for a group to have a center. You can have many such centers – Myrtle Beach is such a center – and it stretches for many miles.”
Commenting on an allegation that one group was trying to take members from another, Baba said, “But there should be cooperation, harmony, and the group heads should not try to win over other members from one office to another. Why? What for? When all work for Baba.” He added that it was all right for one to change groups, but he warned that running from one group to another would cause confusion and misunderstanding.
But the final statement is this discussion, I think, is the most telling. Baba said, “What about Elizabeth Patterson? To what group does she belong? Yet she may be loving me even more than any group heads or those working in certain groups. There may be greater lovers of Baba than the group heads; that is not to be judged. Someone who does not belong to any group may be the greatest lover of all!” A clear warning, I think, to group leaders not to get swelled heads about their positions. And also a warning not to let that kind of title make a group head think it confers some kind of spiritual authority. Witness Baba telling the Poona group heads at one point to leave his young lovers alone and not to interfere in those relationships.
I look on all that as a clear indication that whether you belong to a group or not depends on the circumstances, and either way is fine with Baba. How much appreciation he always showed to writers, poets, musicians and artists over the years, all engaged primarily in solitary projects, but none the less spreading Baba’s message.
Baba’s idea of what constituted a group could also be a bit unusual. Sometime between 1961 and 1962, he began referring to Liz Sacalis and me as the Liz-Ann Group, all two of us. One day at the East-West Gathering, Baba called people into Guruprasad by groups. When he called the NY Monday Night Group, Liz and I went in with them. We weren’t quick enough to realize the two of us could have seen him alone. But Bili Eaton was: she said she didn’t belong to a group and she got to see Baba alone. I’ve always regretted our dumb move.
These days, however, there seem to be more “independent” Baba lovers than those who belong to groups. Perhaps that’s because there are more and more people who have become stronger in their individual relationships with Baba, and more newcomers who arrive as independents and stay that way. They don’t belong to “a Baba group,” but rather to what I would call “Baba’s group,” one encompassed only by his arms and his love.