Amongst Baba folks, it seems there is a bit of a bias against religion and in favor of spirituality. You hear speculation as to whether a religion will form this time around Baba the way it has every other time the Avatar has manifested, and if so, when it will happen and how it will occur. With most people hoping that it won’t, or at least, not in their lifetime. Yet, it seems to me, that there are valid reasons for religion and that the impulse exists even within the Baba community.
Perhaps, given that the majority of Western Baba lovers seemed to come to Him in the 60’s and 70’s, a time of cultural upheaval and rejection of tradition, the idea that we could come to God as we were, directly, individually, without having to conform to a set of rules or strictures, was one that naturally appealed. Although a certain amount of respect and deference was given to Kitty and Elizabeth and Francis and Darwin and Filis, and people tended to ask them for advice, or came to them with problems, for the most part these people did not set themselves up as teachers, nor did they issue edicts which others felt compelled to obey. The mandali went out of their way to convince us that they were just ordinary folks (“we’re all in the same boat, brother,”) and although they gave us guidance and tried to point the way to follow Baba, they did not lay out a clear cut path to God which all should follow. Or perhaps I should say, they did lay out a clear cut path, but “learn to dance to His tune,” while clear, is nonetheless a bit vague on specifics as to how to do that.
Eruch sometimes would humorously bemoan a couple’s marital status and would remind them that the path to God had to be traversed in single file. The essential was for each individual to find God’s voice in their own heart and not to rely on anyone else. My feeling, watching the mandali deal with individuals who (it seemed clear to me) were in desperate need of some supervisory guidance, was that the mandali felt that even wayward paths could lead to God, that one couldn’t judge another’s heart, that people were doing the best they could given the fact that we are all dominated by our sanskaras and that, ultimately, Baba was in charge anyway and would do a better job than they could of gathering in His flock.
Yet, even so, with sadness and reluctance the mandali learned that they couldn’t leave things entirely in Baba’s hands and felt compelled, from time to time, to issue “rules” about pilgrim behavior in India. Eruch used to say that anytime they had to make a rule, they had lost.
Of course, issuing a rule about say, not wearing revealing clothing at Meherabad is not the same as establishing a religion, but it strikes me that the impetus is similar. Although most of us will accept the idea that there is no higher guidance than Baba’s voice in one’s heart, I think many of us feel uncomfortable when someone declares that Baba has told them they don’t have to wear shoes when walking on the Center paths. Or that Baba doesn’t mind if they take drugs, or have premarital sex. For the most part, the Baba community is able to tolerate the “eccentricities” of the relatively few who seem outside the norm. But what will happen if someone starts declaring that Baba has not only told them to do something, but wants others to do it as well? There is bound to be a reaction. People will feel that it is their bounden duty (to borrow one of Eruch’s favorite phrases) to speak out against this “perversion” of Baba’s teachings. This may or may not eventually result in a Baba religion, but I feel that, at least to some extent, it was out of such legitimate concerns that religions started in the past.
It seems easy, in retrospect, to accept that St. Francis felt compelled to live a life of simplicity. It would have been a whole lot harder at the time to accept his inner path as valid when it led him to undress in the middle of a public square. And, when the primary tenet of Islam is that there is no God but God, and Mohammad is (merely?) His prophet, what was a devout muslim supposed to do with someone like Hallaj who declares that he is God? The inner path to God, judging from the lives of mystics and saints, is one of extremes. It is almost a given that the one who tramples worldly convention underfoot in dedication to God’s commands will not only be misunderstood, but will eventually be at odds with whatever religious community they were originally a part of.
When I read the lives of saints and mystics I am often struck at both how lonely they must have been as they forged ahead on uncharted paths, and how courageous they were as they usually had to do so despite the criticism, opposition and sometimes fatal persecution of others (even those they respected). I am not saying that it necessarily follows that everyone will have to go through a phase of offending the conventions of the Baba world in order to get closer to Him, but it certainly strikes me that it is possible that some individuals will. And I hope that I have the courage to do so if it is my path. Yet, at the same time, I can’t fault those who might condemn my behavior or declare me an apostate.
Religion and spirituality almost seem like an inevitable dichotomy, reflecting a basic tension inherent in the path to God—the need for the mystic to ignore the conventions of the world, and the desire of the average person to avoid the pitfalls of extreme behavior. A tension that is apparent even in Baba’s teachings, as He urges us to always be practical, to be in the world, to attend to our duty and yet, at the same time, emphatically tells us to remember, “God alone is real, and nothing matters but love for God.”