I think it is generally recognized that it is much easier to give advice than to take it. You would think that that fact alone would make one think twice before proffering advice. But there are times when it seems that our brotherly or parental duty calls for us to speak out. There are even times when people practically demand that we give advice to them.
And I don’t just mean those situations where artists, performers, or writers say “Tell me what you really think. My feelings won’t be hurt.” I suspect most of us have learned by now that under those circumstances one should never ever say what one truly thinks (unless of course one’s honest appraisal is that it’s the best piece of work they’ve ever done).
No, that’s easy. I’m talking about where someone truly seems troubled about something and seems to be sincere in seeking your opinion or advice. What to do then?
As usual, I have two frames of reference to help me figure such questions out. I try to think about what Baba did in seemingly similar situations, and I bring to mind what the mandali did.
Perhaps it will not surprise you to learn that in my opinion, the two are completely different. Baba gave advice, He gave orders, and He made casual suggestions and it was not always easy to tell the difference between them. Rano used to tell a story where Baba had told a person to do something. The person said, “But Baba, wouldn’t it be so much better if we did it this way?” And Baba then agreed to that. Rano’s point, which she unfailingly made, was that even though Baba had agreed, the new order had no spiritual significance to it and the person had lost a great opportunity for growth. But Rano would also tell the story of how, on their visit to America in 1952, Baba asked her to show the others around the city of New York. Rano said,”But Baba, I haven’t been here for so long and so much has changed, wouldn’t it be better if Charmian did it?” Baba agreed and so it was arranged.
“But Rano,” I said. “How is it that different from the previous story? Weren’t you changing Baba’s order?” “Oh, no,” Rano said, “I was only making a suggestion. Baba permitted that.”
One of the key requirements for “learning to dance to His tune” seemed to be the ability to distinguish between those times when Baba welcomed your suggestions and those times when He required absolute and unquestioning obedience, even when the order seemed to not make sense from a logical or worldly point of view.
So where does this get us in terms of advice? I think it means that it is difficult to look at Baba’s advice giving for any kind of helpful precedent. So then I turn to the mandali and my experience has been that they were often reluctant to give advice. (With certain exceptions, such as Mansari, who was keen to advise me never to drink refrigerated water.) Darwin often made comments about the sanskaric involvement that ensues advice giving and suggested this was reason alone to avoid it.
I think Eruch usually avoided it for an entirely different reason. My sense was that he felt there was little point in giving advice because, in general, people were going to do what they wanted to do anyway. On the other hand, if he did give advice and people did something merely because he had advised it, they would be following him, not Baba. He seemed to want people to learn to find and then follow Baba’s internal advice. External prompts, supports and guides, in a way only interfere with this internal process.
In “Hints for Spiritual Workers” Baba reminds us that truth is latent in everyone and our job isn’t to tell others the truth, but to help it spontaneously unfold within them. In this process asking questions can be as important as providing answers.
So when it comes to giving advice, my advice is. . .don’t.