By Bruce Felknor
I used to regularly visit Meherabad, but in recent years it hasn’t been possible. While I try to accept what happens and doesn’t happen as Baba’s will, in this case I managed to corral my disappointment and keep it in a place I didn’t want to look at squarely. I lost hope of ever returning there again, to the place I love so dearly. So it was, on the eve of Meher Baba’s 48th Amartithi, that the longing to be at His tomb returned to me unexpectedly and I found Baba beckoning me to have a fresh experience of His Amartithi from afar.
Amartithi – Eternal Date, or date with the Eternal – is the anniversary of that day in 1969 when Meher Baba dropped His physical body. It is observed differently by His lovers throughout the world, and in this case I’m thinking of the Meherabad celebration which takes place over three days from January 30th to February 1st.
The first Amartithi lasted for seven days. Baba’s crypt remained open until February 7th, allowing His lovers from far and wide to have one last glimpse of His form and to bow down to His love. It is His lovers who uniquely experience Amartithi and who, in the midst of His continuous and unbroken presence, mourn the loss of His physical being and companionship, and exalt in the gift of His love.
There was no plan for the first Amartithi because no one was expecting Baba to drop his body! Rather, the proceedings then were the natural and spontaneous expressions and actions of those assembled: acts of love and appreciation, of obedience and of praise; the work of caring for His physical form and making accommodations for those travelling from afar; all the spontaneous love being expressed in song and prayer and garlands of flower-offerings laid lovingly on His form.
There was, however, one order Baba had given repeatedly over the years: that the song Begin the Beguine be played seven times when He dropped His body. And so it was.
Baba said Begin the Beguine had “deep spiritual significance” and He gave it prominence during His lifetime. In the East, there are innumerable songs that inform listeners about all aspects of the relationship between the lover and the Beloved. Here in the West this is almost entirely absent, and Baba must have wanted the Western ear to hear this song and be drawn into the divine romance. Begin the Beguine describes a most beautiful song that itself represents the most beautiful love once enjoyed, but now lost, and the haunting music that stirs its recollection. But for that tune itself, the memory of this love would remain deeply buried. However, such is that melody’s effect which the lover cannot help but revive the experience of this love, and hope that somehow all will be regained. To me, this is Meher Baba’s promise to His lovers, those whom He drew to Himself, the person of the God-Man: that even in His physical absence, He Himself – that Tune – calls us to awaken and believe in what had seemed an impossible reality.
It is wholly fitting, therefore, that the pinnacle of the Amartithi celebration, the moment when Baba dropped His body at twelve-noon on January 31st, is heralded by the playing of Begin the Beguine. It sets the stage for what is to come, reminding us of the incredible beauty of His person, the gift of His Divine Love, the manifestation of His assertion “I am not this body” and the assurance that He is that very song that urges us to carry on against all dashed hopes.
Begin the Beguine is followed by Meher Dhun, which is the musical repetition of His name: Meher Baba. (“Dhun” is a Hindi word describing a call/response song form, or a simple song meant to be sung by all.) The initial cadence is deliberate and unhurried, its melody lilting and happy. By the end of the first phrase, the entire gathering of some tens of thousands has risen in unison, singing Meher Baba…Meher Baba…Meher Baba.
The memory of the love of He whose physical person is lost to us, whose reality is promised and whose presence is unceasing is found in repeating His name: Meher Baba. During this simple song, all the stories of Baba’s human lifetime proceed before me, as in a cinema of the heart; the drum-beat of the intimate and precious life of the God-Man, His human form so perfectly adorning His Divine Reality; His stride, the sparkle of His eyes, the effortless elegance of His gestures, how His hair flowed with the breeze; how He did not spare Himself in His labors to complete His work; to share His intimate company with His lovers, and to feed minds hungry for dispensation of the Truth. And how, miraculously and inevitably, He awakened our hearts and assured us:
Through ages of darkness and suffering mankind awaits me and my Truth. I and the Truth which I bring are inseparable, one from the other. I am one with the Truth. May you all, too, break through the numberless cages and realize that you are one with the limitless Truth of divine life. The divine Beloved is always with you, in you and around you. Know that you are not separate from Him.[i]
As Meher Dhun progresses, its pace quickens and it intensifies, eventually to the point where one is holding on for dear life, mirroring the growing urgency of Baba’s advent and work – the time is approaching, the time is near, “My time has come…”
At precisely twelve-noon, all fall into silence. It is the moment when Meher Baba left His physical form and caused His lovers, for the first time, to seek a new answer to the question: “Where is Baba?” During this advent, until that moment, there had always been a ready answer for that question: He is in Bombay. He is on a mast tour. He is in Myrtle Beach. He is in seclusion. He is at Meherazad with Mehera and His Mandali. However, now the game of hide and seek between the lover and the Beloved takes a new turn. Now the search continues, differently.
It is foundational to the stories we hear of Meher Baba that He did not speak at all for the last 44 years of His lifetime. That is to say, we are not constantly (or even frequently) reminded of His physical silence because His humanness was completely unhindered by that silence. Rather, it is His Silence, a separate thing, unfathomable and mysterious, which is central, and to which He made periodic reference His whole life.
Things that are real are given and received in silence.
God has been everlastingly working in Silence, unobserved, unheard, except by those who experience His Infinite Silence.
Drown all sound in My Silence to hear My Word of Words.
Now at Amartithi – the eternal date – we remember Baba, His majesty and intimacy (“I am nearer to you than your own breath”), the Avatar of the Age who, through His great and unstinting labors and because of His love for all, completed His work (“100% to My satisfaction”) and released the arrow of His Divine Love to pierce the hearts of His lovers. We, His lovers, live collectively in the reverberation of Baba’s Life-Song; and His Silence is its sound.
When I break My Silence, the impact of My Love will be universal and all life in creation will know, feel and receive of it. It will help every individual to break himself free from his own bondage in his own way. I am the Divine Beloved who loves you more than you can ever love yourself. The breaking of My Silence will help you to help yourself in knowing your real Self.
At Meherabad, the silence is broken with Baba’s “Jai !” – His victory: Avatar Meher Baba ki Jai ! We acclaim His advent, bask in its glory and entreat Him, God, to be victorious in ourselves.
We pray the prayers He has given to us.
It is I who has been absent. The fault is mine, Beloved.
I am thankful to have been there, at Meherabad, in the past, and also thankful now to be reminded that Amartithi is not only a particular day, or a celebration only at a particular place, but the eternal blessings of the Divine Beloved who wants to share His beautiful love with His lovers and all. Now. . . and now. . . and now.
[i] Life at Its Best, “You are One with the Limitless Truth of Divine Love”.