Sunday, October 28, 2012

Meher Baba's principal contributions to human understanding

What follows is my own personal opinion about what Meher Baba’s primary contributions to human understanding are.

Roman imitation of Greek vase
Meher Baba said that he was the Avatar of this cycle of time, a cycle being a period of history that he identified as lasting between about 700 to about 1,400 years. One may interpret Baba’s claim of Avatarhood however they like or simply dismiss it. For me, I take him at his word. According to Nisargadatta Maharaj, Avatars bring fresh new ideas to mankind. This is roughly the same as the view of the influential German philosopher and historian Oswald Spengler, who wrote in the early 20th century that new ages of approximately 1000 years are inevitably ushered in by a new prophet who brings to the world new vitality through a refreshed and enhanced view of the old, when past modes of seeing are outworn and have lost their inherent meaning and fragrance and those cultures have entered decline. These new ideas, he said, bring a revival of human energy, by way of these fresh new ways of seeing, and these revivals he likens to springs that follow winters. This coincides closely with what Baba says.
Avataric periods are like the springtide of creation. They bring a new release of power, a new awakening of consciousness, a new experience of life-not merely for a few, but for all. . . Life, as a whole, is stepped up to a higher level of consciousness, is geared to a new rate of energy. . . (Meher Baba, Discourses, 7th ed. p. 268)
And the disciples came, and said unto Him,
Why do you speak unto them in parables?
He answered and said unto them, Because
it is given unto you to know the mysteries
of the kingdom of heaven, but unto them
 it is not given.”  Matt 13:10-11
When considering those great human beings of the past that Baba refers to as the major advents of the Avatar (Zoroaster, Ram, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammad), such figures very often spoke in cryptic symbolic forms or in parables with layers of meaning that had to be studied and unraveled for us later by travelers of the inner spiritual path, mystics who followed in their wake. However, Meher Baba spoke rather plainly about his Theme of life, frequently in scientific detail. The word “scientific” here is used to mean carefully dissected and explained, not physical science that we now mostly think of as the only science. The ancient science of mysticism.

In all major religious traditions there is a strain of teachings on what is almost invariably referred to as the inner spiritual path – the avenue by which individual human beings can, when they are ready, delve into their own inner beings, pass by all illusions, and discover and become united with, and even become One with, the Real. It is a teaching buried in all ancient myths and expressed in the confessions of saints.

Such teachings of an inner path are taught by mystics of Sufism (the mystical branch of Islam), Hinduism (in its philosophy), and Christianity (the branch of Christian knowledge known as mystical theology).

In all these traditions the stages of the path are similar, in many cases almost uncannily so, as well as that path’s goal of an ultimate mystical union by the individual soul.

So the path Baba talks about is not new. In fact, if we consider only these streams (Muslim, Hindu, and Christian), considering the number of people who identify themselves as belonging to these religions, more than half the current population of the Earth belongs to a tradition that includes a teaching of the inner path, even if many or even most of the adherents of those religions do not realize it.

To most adherents of a religion, the interest and focus is not placed on the inner path. The purpose of religion prior to embarking on and undergoing the rigors of the path appears to be to prepare human beings for the path, when they are ready, which Baba says generally takes many lifetimes.

Unlike those who emphasize merely the exoteric side of rituals and rites of these religions, who see their religion as being the only course to the goal, mystics in all these traditions tend to recognize that the mystical streams of all the various major religions are speaking of the same inner path, albeit in different terminology and symbology. And they often incorporate each other's ideas when it seems appropriate – such as when it fills in some gap in their own understanding of their own tradition.

So what is it that is new that Baba brings to this subject of spirituality?

Baba’s teaching could be roughly divided into two branches. One is the branch that deals with daily life in the world, how to live life properly and morally and why, and to what end life is meant to be lived and the right attitude – encouraging us always to keep life’s ultimate purpose in mind as we go about our daily lives in preparation for the path. Most of such teachings by Baba are essentially just like those of other religions of the past – very little new or astonishing. Do no harm to others, be practical, be honest, avoid callous sexual practices, etc.

It is the second branch where Baba makes his most marked contribution to man’s understanding. This second branch of his teachings deals with the path. The path is most elaborately described in his book God Speaks and it is harder to read and understand than his other works.

While God Speaks alludes to ancient beliefs about the path, it is not just a rehashing of those beliefs. Baba goes further and clarifies the stages of the path in rather exact terms, including adding previously unknown detail about the inner experiences had in these stages. In addition, Baba extends what counts as the full journey of the soul in what he calls (in the book’s title at least) the Theme of Creation. In doing this he places the mystic’s inner path into a much greater journey of the soul – a kind of streaming arc of the soul’s entire descent through evolution, near stalemate in reincarnation, and then ascent through the path. It is a journey of the soul’s consciousness through experience of itself as first a stone, then a vegetable, then fish, etc., taking experience in turn of all the varied species in evolution, to arrive finally in man form with full consciousness, and at last back to God through the inner realms of the seven planes of involution ascended by saints with increasingly matured consciousness. It is a journey that the soul undergoes, not just beginning in man form, but beginning much farther back – in God Himself, by way of evolution and then many reincarnations as a human being, and finally ending up in full super-consciousness as a human being who has realized his own Godhood.

Thus Baba’s theme is more encompassing. It includes everything there is in life – thus is more holistic in this sense – clearly a theme needed and wanted in our desperate and dangerous materialistic times where even the environment has to be included in a world-view that can sustain us for another cycle of time – if mankind is to survive and develop into higher roads. So Baba gives a theme that encompasses not just human life, but life as a whole, and with this theme a grand purpose and direction for life – in short giving real new meaning to life.

Baba places every animate and inanimate thing in Creation somewhere in his Theme of the advancing soul, of which he gives four main stages.
  1. Evolution
  2. Reincarnation
  3. Involution
  4. Realization
This, then, is Meher Baba’s greatest contribution to human knowledge that had not been there before, I think. He expands the scope of the path to include all of life (not just man), including everything and everyone in it. We are all on this path together – the soul finding itself as a plant and a stone just as much as the saint.

The second contribution that Baba made to human understanding, in service to the first, is to the mechanics by which this process of the advancing soul through Creation is driven. Baba does so by expanding upon past understanding of the little-discussed idea of the sanskara. No one before him ever did this with so much detail, care, and exactness. Baba wraps his entire model of the Universe, both its unfolding (evolution) and infolding (through involution of the mystic) in terms of an understanding of this single idea of the sanskara. I won’t try to elaborate on it here, as it is far too dense a subject. One has to check his work for themselves.

So what is Baba’s main contribution to human knowledge? Baba expands upon the path, gives clarification and detail to its stages and experiences, as well as new warnings of its pitfalls, and expands the path to include all sentient and insentient things in Creation, and thus gives all life Theme and Purpose – which it has so sorely missed. And Baba gives clarity to the mechanics of this process by way of elaborate elucidations on the sanskara.

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