By Jenny Keating
It’s obvious from reading the accounts of living with Meher Baba that backbiting, “front-biting,” speaking ill of others, telling the so-called truth at the cost of people’s feelings, were all a no-no in the ashram.
Baba has made so many very strong statements about this age-old habit of ours that I feel He must want it to be inscribed in bold letters on our minds and hearts.
I first discovered His point of view many years ago when reading Kitty Davy’s book Love Alone Prevails. This wonderful book is full of helpful hints on how Baba wants us to approach life and our own weaknesses, including backbiting and criticism:
“Don’t criticize. The habit of criticizing our fellow-beings is a bad one.” (p. 164)
He also gives possible reasons why we backbite and criticize:
“At the back of it often lies self-righteousness, conceit, a false sense of superiority. Sometimes it indicates envy or a desire for retaliation.” (Love Alone Prevails, p. 164)
Then He makes clear the consequences:
“Do not get angry, but be pleased with he who backbites you, for he thereby renders service to you by diminishing the load of your sanskaras; and also pity him for thereby he makes his load of sanskaras more burdensome . . . .” (Love Alone Prevails, p. 164)
On this topic of the sanskaric consequences of backbiting Baba has given a detailed analysis in Lord Meher (online revised ed., p. 4667):
“What effect do the sanskaras of backbiting produce? Suppose Mr. A says to Mr. B: ‘Mr. C has not come; he is a bad man.’ Mr. C is not present. Mr. A has told this directly to Mr. B. Consequently, there is an exchange of sanskaras in an indirect way between Mr. A and Mr. C, and in a direct way between Mr. A and Mr. B. Thus, the sanskaras of slandering are of two types – direct and indirect. Thereby, the most minute sanskaras are created and for millions of births it is difficult to be freed from them.”
Baba added these further details:
“Sanskaras are of seven colors. Sanskaras of lust and anger have different colors, and the sanskaras created by backbiting are still deeper. We do not know them as such, but they are some of the worst type and nearly impossible to eradicate. Viruses are very subtle germs and invisible, but they are the most troublesome. Similarly, the sanskaras of calumny and defamation are most wicked and troublesome.
“Therefore, do not defame or vilify others. If someone does it to you, you should be pleased. If someone kicks you, press his leg. What Christ has said about presenting the other cheek [if slapped] has meaning. If you love, you cannot slander. So try to love all. If you do it, I will believe in you! Otherwise, your coming to Me has no meaning.”
And to someone who denied ever backbiting Baba added:
“If anyone speaks about another’s shortcomings behind his back, even though what he says may be true, it is slander.” (Lord Meher, online revised ed., p. 4667)
But there is hope and a good news story on this topic: Included in Love Alone Prevails are letters from the western women living with Baba which were sent in the early 1940s from India to the westerners back home. They talk about Baba’s rule not to backbite and its positive effect on life in the ashram:
“One of the strictest rules is no one is to backbite, scandalize or criticize anyone else! I must say it has made an enormous difference to the place, as everyone has made almost superhuman efforts to keep this rule, as Baba made such a special point of this one. He talked about it for weeks beforehand and said it was impossible for us.” (p. 291)
And in another letter:
“The rule to stop backbiting and criticism was very difficult at first, but now it is working more or less smoothly, and everyone is much happier.” (Love Alone Prevails, p. 290)
I had to smile when I read in Donkin’s Diaries, Donkin’s dry humor when recalling one of Baba’s talks to the men mandali on this very topic:
“Yesterday Baba gave us all a talk about not back-biting – he says he knows none of us will obey that order – which is on the year’s order-list – which is quite true – none of us will. He says we must be on guard every day for a year against these enemies in ourselves, like a soldier in the trenches on guard against outside enemies and a harder task really.” (p. 146)
Not only does Baba include backbiting in the “Prayer of Repentance” and in the “Song of the New Life,” in both instances the implication being it is a weakness we must strive seriously to overcome, but I also found that one of Meher Baba’s very own directives for pilgrims staying at His Home in the West (Meher Center, Myrtle Beach) includes the following:
“Baba does not wish us to indulge in conversations regarding: backbiting, politics or drugs.”
As can be seen, there are many references which Baba makes to backbiting and speaking ill of others and our need to control and finally give up this weakness, but possibly the strongest is the following:
“Of the three most important things to be eliminated before attaining God-realization – greed, lust and backbiting – backbiting is the worst and most disastrous. One can overcome greed, and even lust, though both are very hard to get rid of; but by far the worst, and most difficult habit of all to eliminate, is that of speaking ill of and trying to find faults or flaws in others. And why must it be eliminated? Because this particular act or vice incurs the burden of sins or sanskaras of others, which is spiritually very derogatory and reactionary.” (Lord Meher, p. 2359)
In Baba addressing this particular weakness He highlights how much of a subtle and pervasive part of the fabric of our lives it is and how an increased awareness of this habit of ours can help in the process of its gradual elimination.
And He also helps us realise through this increased awareness, that it is not in isolation nor in meditation and prayer – moments removed from daily life – but right in the midst of our living with people and learning to overcome these age-old habits that we can learn the true meaning of a spiritual life.
Published November, 2018.