Saturday, September 7, 2013

Review of Infinite Intelligence

This is my belated review of the 2005 Sheriar Foundation publication of Infinite Intelligence by Meher Baba.

Infinite Intelligence was a book developed by the Avatar Meher Baba Trust over a long period. It was based on two notebooks discovered in Baba's home in Meherazad after 1969. They were discovered in a storage room and had no inscription of title, author, scribe, or date of writing. They are penned neatly by an unknown scribe and are believed to be from teachings by Meher Baba given sometime between 1925 and 1926. It is 776 pages. The author is given as Meher Baba, and I agree the notes come from Meher Baba – though the exact manner in which he gave these notes and had them scribed in this way remains unknown.

When the book came out in 2005 I was concerned with a few things I had read online expressing doubts in the method in which the book was done, with some critics worrying it was more a Trust creation than by Baba himself. After all, the original notebooks are 255 handwritten notebook pages. How did this become 776 pages?

I had read and was concerned about two main concerns (though these are no longer concerns of mine). One was that the original charts were apparently replaced with new ones that were significantly different from those in the original, and there were even new charts added.

The second concern I read about that worried me was the complaint that some readers expressed that one had no way to clearly and easily locate what in the final book could be correlated to any one particular page in the original - to make a comparison and judge the editorial choices made.

It happened that the Trust had, along with the release of the completed book, made scans of the original hand-written manuscript as well as an early rough typed transcript and other associated material freely available online for just such concerns, so that people could study these and make decisions for themselves. In fact, the Trust explicitly stated that these resources (a rare gift by a copyright holder) were meant for further scholarship. No claim was ever made that the final Infinite Intelligence was meant to be the "final word" and thus the Trust generously opened these materials to scholarship, cautious skeptics, serious students, etc. It even says in Infinite Intelligence (in the Essay at the end) that it is assumed there will be future versions of the same material – perhaps better.

So I decided to temporarily forego reading Infinite Intelligence, and instead try my own hand at creating an edit directly from the original content made available for the purpose on the Trust website, an effort deliberately without influence by anyone else's interpretation of the original material.

My idea was to address the two concerns I had read about directly. First I wrote it in a way that each page in my edited version could be matched to that exact page number in the original, so that no one had to accept my editing choices and could assess them for themselves whenever they felt in doubt. Secondly I inserted facsimiles of all original hand-drawn charts where they originally were on the page. Finally I provided my cleaned up direct transcript of the original, to make such a comparison even easier. I also assumed if a person liked, they could simply read the transcript itself, and skip my own try at an edit altogether, and try their own reasoning however they liked to interpret it. So essentially nothing was left hidden – everything was wide open and I left autonomy to the reader to make their own judgments or choose their own way to use the materials I provided.

I made my personal try available online some time back for anyone to see if they were interested. One can find all these materials here:

https://sites.google.com/site/intelligencematerials/

As I said my edit-attempt was entirely uninfluenced by Infinite Intelligence, as I had never read it at all at the time I wrote it.

In fact, my doing this was entirely in the stated spirit of the Trust in providing these materials I used, and this is stated both online and in the Essay that follows the main text of Infinite Intelligence.

The Trust never claimed that their version was the final word, or that other versions would not appear. So the Trust has been incredibly transparent and generous – seeking further examination and experiments, not closing the door on it. I am not sure people are aware of this. One may find this material at the Trust website under "Unpublished Manuscript" here: http://www.ambppct.org/library.php

Anyway, all this history can be found in the Appendixes of Infinite Intelligence in great detail if they are interested. The book itself can be purchased here:



My Reveiw

Anyway, now for the main topic of this post, my belated review of Infinite Intelligence as written by the Trust, and published by Sheriar Foundation in 2005. I recently began to study the published book, and see what I think, and see if the concerns I have read about are true. In short, one might be surprised what conclusion I have come to rather easily, it is terrific.

I will first describe why the concerns over the book don't hold up. Secondly, I will explain what small value my own try might still have to a few people.

First of all, understand that I spent several months reading the original over and over, and trying to do much of what the Trust did (though they had much more skill and scholarly participation). I have gone over the original transcript many times, and spent agonizing hours or even days on a single page of my own revision. It was easy to spend hours on a single paragraph. Anyone who truly takes a look honestly at the original transcript will quickly see why it was, as the Trust has rightly said, virtually impenetrable as it was.

I will give an example of a paragraph that I edited from page 84 of the original notebooks transcript. This is different than one will find in Infinite Intelligence; it is my own try).

Original:

When the mind is realizing the universe { i.e. experiencing the universe (which is really speaking, most finite, nothing, darkness, ignorance or Imagination in origin) as Infinite, everything, light, knowledge or Intelligence, and experiencing Itself (which is really speaking Infinite, everything, light, Knowledge or Intelligence in origin) as most finite, nothing, darkness, ignorance or Imagination } i.e. thinking falsely It is bound by falseness i.e. Maya. And what makes It think falsely, i.e., what makes It bound by Maya? Answer : – Sanskaras!

My try at editing:

Really speaking the universe is most finite, nothing, darkness, ignorance, or Imagination in origin, and the Self is Infinite, everything, light, knowledge or Intelligence in origin. When the mind is realizing (experiencing) the universe as Infinite, everything, light, knowledge or Intelligence, and experiencing Itself as most finite, nothing, darkness, ignorance or Imagination, It is thinking falsely, It is bound by falseness, i.e. Maya. What makes It think falsely? What makes It bound by Maya? Sanskaras!

One can see that I left the intention, even the exact words when possible, but make some arrangement changes to make it more legible without sacrificing faithfulness to the original intention.

Needless to say, while my edit may not be ideal, I am certainly familiar with the original and with the problems of making it more clear – not just to some theoretical novice reader I have in mind, but even to myself. I find the first one, though follow-able, only so with far greater effort and a much slower speed. Remember also, that no one is stuck with ANYONE's attempt to edit the original, as the original is freely available to anyone who cares to examine it.

Okay, what were the criticisms of Infinite Intelligence and do they hold up in my opinion?

The first concern I heard stated, that originally inspired me to try my hand at it unbiased and starting fresh, was that one could not match a page in the edited version with a page in the original scans of the handwritten work. Well, to be honest, this would likely be true to one reading Infinite Intelligence who was not extremely familiar with the original text. For the Trust version has a different page count, and some editing is deep and abundant to make points in the original clear. However, if a person is intimately familiar with the original, it is not at all hard to match any particular part of the final version of Infinite Intelligence by the Trust to the precise page in the original they were editing from. The problem is not that the Trust 'changed' the meaning or content, but only some of the wording, and this is always (in my estimation) to the great advantage to the reader. In fact the Trust's effort (with as I said enormous expenditure of expert input and years of hard work by dozens of qualified volunteers) is endlessly better written than my own, and endlessly more accurate. Its prose is better than mine. Its translations of terms obviously more expertly considered. Both in clarity and prose, and in faithfulness to what was there, the Trust's version leaves my own try behind in the dust. As one that was once proud of my own try, I can unequivocally endorse what the Trust has done. It is both clear and faithful to the original.

Now another concern I was alarmed by was that the charts had been replaced – or so I heard. In my version, the original charts are placed exactly where they were in the original text. I had assumed (from what others had told me) that these were not in Infinite Intelligence. But the fact is that they are all there in the Appendixes of the book, with lucid and helpful commentary on them. They are also better printed and clearer to read than in mine – simply taken from the online scans as I did. So I would say there is nothing missing from the original in Infinite Intelligence – it is simply in a different place.

Now finally, I want to complement the editorial staff on Infinite Intelligence on how they anticipated and addressed any concerns people might have in the future with what work they have done. And it is my opinion that the Trust bent over backward to not have philosophical opinions of the editors interfere with the text. There are many things they did so that this would not happen. But one of the most imaginative and smart, in my opinion, is that the views of the editors are not put up front in the book as a Preface as one would expect, but rather inserted as a stand-alone essay after the body of the book. They explain they did this so that a person who simply wanted to enter straight into the body of the work, without the influence of any editorial conjecture or philosophizing on the material and its significance, could do so. The Essay winds up being, then, optional. The same is true of the Endnotes of the book, that comment on the choices of editing that were made for the book. These also are placed where they needn't interfere with the reader who wishes to trust the judgment of the Trust, but are there for anyone who wants to know what major changes were made and why.

The Essay and the Comments are only two of the many valuable resources at the end of the book, but I want to comment briefly on both of these in particular.

The Essay that follows the main text is about 90 pages long. It does not give wandering philosophical conjectures of what this or that means to the editors. It is quite void of personal conjecture that anyone could find offensive or presumptuous. I read it cover to cover and found it incredibly helpful, and there is no point in it I do not agree on (for what that's worth). I think my opinion has a bit of extra merit since I too worked on the same material, and came to many of the exact same conclusions they did. Much of what was said was what I myself would have, and in many cases my mind was enlightened by thoughts that had not occurred to me, or points in the book that had (even after months of reading) escaped me. I found myself extremely indebted to the detailed and well written Essay given by the Trust.

The other resource of note in the book (and there are many of great interest), is the Endnotes. These notes are where the Trust makes clear the thinking behind each editorial change that differed from the original beyond mere grammatical improvements, many of these changes tiny but always significant. I have checked some of these carefully, even going to the original transcript myself to see if I agreed with what they did, and to my delight I find every choice not just good, but nearly inevitable. An example is an instance where the word "subtle" in the original was a clear error by the scribe, and was replaced with the word "gross" that made sense in the context. I checked this. I saw they were absolutely right. A bit nervously I went to my own version to see if I had noticed it when I edited mine, and saw I had missed this. (It is now corrected in mine too). So the Trust, in these Endnotes, has bent over backward again to make their choices opaque and open to reconsideration by anyone. The Trust goes out of their way, just as I had tried, to invite the autonomy of the reader to judge for and reassess for themselves, and makes no claim to have gotten the final word or say. There is no claim to have created a canon, but as good of a try as they could do. And I cannot commend this try more highly.

Are there things I would criticize in the book? A few of the new charts I found a bit silly, and serve in some cases more to make the book beautiful than more clear. In one a mirror is seen to break, which does not occur in the metaphor that the picture is meant to illustrate, and even makes no sense in its context. But certainly no real harm is done by some colorful artistic whimsy.

Do I think it's the final word on the notebooks? Probably not, as the book so openly admits repeatedly, and even encourages future improvement.

I give the book five stars. *****



This leaves the final point for me to talk about. Now that I have seen how good Infinite Intelligence really is, is there any remaining value to my own try?

I think there is, but not as a book, but as a study tool. Taking my resources, one can more readily check what was in the original. The scans of the original handwritten manuscript (downloadable at the Trust website) are not searchable, and the Trust transcript available online is rough, with many blanks and typos, and is hard to match to the scans. My own transcript has been corrected and corresponds page by page to the page numbers in the original scans.

So, as supplemental study tools, I hope these two files I worked so long and hard on and have made freely downloadable online, still can provide something of use to many, to use as they like or choose not to.

One of the main good things that can be said about my having done this work is that it put me in a better position to assess and review how well Intelligence Notebooks reflects the original, and how good its editing choices really were. And I think this would have been hard without that extra study of the original material.

My Intelligence Materials freely online

Infinite Intelligence at Sheriar Books

Trust Online Library

2 comments:

  1. Your review gets ***** too! Thanks.

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  2. Wonderful review, Chris. Thank you.

    This last weekend I was able to hear Ward Parks present in Chicago, and the combination of the re-read I did, plus paying closer scrutiny to the essay, with Ward's talk, has really helped me with this challenging book.

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