By Steve Klein
One of the things that struck me most forcibly about the mandali was the degree to which they were able to make people feel unconditionally loved. Eruch, especially, seemed to concentrate on making people feel loved and was very reluctant to tell people what they “should” do.
In fact, this used to be a source of friction for some, because there were those around him who used to plead with him to take more of a role in teaching others, or would give him a hard time for not reprimanding those who seemed to need it.
When I asked Eruch about this he said he had a brotherly duty to bring it to people’s attention if they were doing something which was grossly displeasing to Baba (actually, he didn’t use the qualifier grossly, but I have added it because it seemed to me he tended not to say anything about all the little things we constantly did which displeased Baba, but would speak up only when there were larger issues at stake) but otherwise who was he to speak out.
Although at times I found this frustrating, I also saw how effective it was. Only once a person felt loved, could they accept any advice without feeling defensive or rejected. And Eruch had the patience to wait until the time was “right” before saying anything.
In 1980 a Baba lover wrote and asked Eruch if he could do anything for him. And Eruch wrote back and said that since he asked, would it be possible for him to stand in the queue during Amartithi to take darshan instead of skipping to the front of the line? I was flabbergasted. Eruch, I exclaimed, he’s been doing this for 11 years and you’re just suggesting now that he take his turn like everyone else? Why didn’t you tell him years ago? Because, Eruch said, it’s only now that he asked.
But what do I do with this kind of example when it comes to parenting? Who can wait 11 years for the “teachable moment,” especially when our foster kids tend to already be teenagers when they come to our house? I think, perhaps, with the sense that I don’t have much time to pass on the lessons our kids need to learn before they go off on their own, my natural tendency to “teach” (read: nag, criticize and lecture) is reinforced. Don’t I have a duty, I ask myself, to create ethical, or moral guidelines for those in my care? How will they learn right from wrong if I don’t teach them? How will they develop compassion and empathy if I don’t help them see that the universe is not constructed for their exclusive enjoyment?
As you have probably guessed, this approach is counterproductive. Because our kids are older, paradoxically, they need, to an even greater extent, to be loved and not lectured. They want to feel accepted for who they are, not how they behave. So they become defensive if they sense criticism, they dig in their heels, find justification for their behavior and respond with anger to those who have the temerity to suggest they need to change. In short, they act just like adults.
I really shouldn’t be surprised. My own experience with the mandali reinforces my belief that only when we feel completely loved and accepted, and not judged, do we feel free enough to let go of the negative habits we’ve been holding on to so tightly under the mistaken belief that this was necessary to ensure our sense of identity.
There is a balance here, to be sure, and I’m not suggesting that no ethical guidance ever be offered. The mandali certainly held up an incredibly high standard as to what constituted true obedience but what was so marvelous was the way they could make one (me, anyway) feel completely loved and accepted in spite of my inability to meet their standards. As one who loves to preach and has very little capacity for expressing love, this is a daunting example. But it brings home for me, from a new perspective, the profound wisdom in Baba’s words that He did not come to teach, but to awaken.