Saturday, July 5, 2014

Meher Baba's Words

NOTE: This site used to be titled 'Meher Baba Words,' which will make the opening make more sense.

This site is named Meher Baba Words. That is because the URL (internet address of websites) does not allow for the apostrophe. The name is actually meant to signify "Meher Baba's Words."

Every post on this blog has something to do, no matter how unapparently so at times, with Meher Baba's words that he left with us. Even my not so long ago flurry of "ineffables" was a sideways reference to words in themselves.

But here I want to share a few of my own vague musings on Baba's words directly. To begin with, we have no tape recordings of Baba speaking. Thus none of us alive have ever heard a physical orated 'word' from Baba in its most plain sense. Rather we have read them, or what best record we have been able to keep of them. This is not unusual. We have no record of the voice of any of the Avatars.

Yet, oddly, in the age of the electronic recording device, Baba's silence is even more profound and overt. As nearly everyone who ever heard of Baba must by now know, Baba did not speak after 1925 in the ordinary sense of vocally forming and speaking words. Baba's methods for communication after he began his lifelong silence are so complex and interesting that they were recently the subject of a scholarly paper in a peer reviewed journal on semiotics. See Meher Baba’s Silent Semiotic Output, José Sanjinés, Signs and Society. You can view this excellent article here.

Baba's use of these methods of communicating, using ever diminishingly literal words, has been a subject of mystery since its beginning, and Sanjinés' is not the first mention of it. In 1964, in his book, The God-Man: The Life, Journeys & Work of Meher Baba with an Interpretation of His Silence and spiritual teaching, Charles Purdom wrote:
Why he ceased to speak and write Baba has explained only vaguely, though much natural curiosity is aroused; the first question asked when people come to know about him or to see him is why he does it. That both silence and nonwriting are of great significance is certain; not surprisingly Baba does not explain. Silence is the answer to silence.
(Charles Purdom, God-Man, online edition, p. 407)

But even this discussion of Baba's mysterious lifelong silence does not begin to touch the subject of the "word" in all its historical and mystical senses and levels of meaning. It begs speaking of at least a little (if that seems ironic) because the word has all the signs of being the very heart of the meaning and mystery of this Avataric advent. And thankfully none of us have pretended to fully grasp it.

For instance, Baba's silence was not merely at first a literal fast from speaking, but almost immediately was taken by him to more extreme and increasingly mysterious levels, by next not even writing words, but only pointing to their signs — letters — and then abandoning even these for signs with his hands, at last creating signs for whole expressions, unless and only when an exact word was essential. This process was even filmed, amazingly, and with sound ironically, near the end of his life and is seen in the 1997 film documentary, "Beyond Words," by the Dutch filmmaker Louis van Gasteren.

But it did not even stop with that. For at the very end, Baba went into such seclusion that he did not even allow letters to be written to him, no one even able to see him except his intimate disciples. And his final "Darshan" (as he himself named it) was given without his physical presence at all, for he had passed away. He had long prepared us for that great distance and acceptance, taught us to be resigned to his manner of retreating, while saying he was ever closer. So silence is taken to the utmost extreme in Baba, and must certainly bear the greatest meaning because of it — or so I dare to guess.

Consider, then, with all this focus on silence, the enigmatic constant symbolic references by Baba to the word. He spoke continually of breaking his silence, by uttering one word that would shake the world. His principal book is titled God Speaks. And it obviously is no accident that Baba himself gave the title to Don Stevens' edition of Baba's discourses, Listen Humanity.

Baba's own cosmology begins with a Word, to which he gave cryptic names, such as "the Original Whim" and "Initial Urge." And then he enunciated this Word in our words as "Who am I?" Baba went even further, incredibly enough, and even spelled the pronunciation of this word if it were heard: "M-m-m."

To divide Meher Baba from the word is impossible, as it appears as the entire tenor of his message, the ever-running theme behind all his words and actions. The more we try to unravel its meaning, the more obvious our attempts fall short. What can most agree upon about Baba, whether they follow him or not? If his silence had a meaning it is beyond our reach, and yet he appeared to want us to reach for it — whatever 'it' might be. And this seems a deep part of his mission, if he had a mission.

And there is some sense we take from more ancient mystical streams, that Baba might be saying that he in some way is the Word itself.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . [and] the Word was made flesh. (Gospel of John 1:1)
I cannot venture to say anything beyond what I have above in regards to Baba's words, in any mystical sense, and won't venture to pretend to be able to answer any of the questions I somewhat haphazardly raise. And to simply list quotes from Baba about words and the word, would do little but imply that we might, by seeing them in a row, interpret the more hidden meaning I'm driving at. Though I must admit, in a more mundane sense, I have given just such a short list here, though in that case specifically referring to his orders and teachings

But now that I made much of Baba's words and perhaps word, in all possible senses of the word, I'll come back down to Earth and say a bit more about words in the common sense, words as we have on the page.

Today many of us, myself included, find ourselves at some time quarreling bout Baba's words. Which were his? What were his precise words? I in fact think that in many instances those precise words are important, and there is much evidence that on numerous occasions Baba was exact and precise. Baba was never sloppy with words. It is merely an obvious point that, from a high point of view, some words matter more than others. There are cases where numerous words will stand for the same thing, and some might be more poetic than others, and open to some variation. While others are important, for a particular word may carry a subtle sense and difference not carried by the others.

While there are often many words in English for nearly the same thing, sometimes one is the one you mean and want. Baba was no different. It has been written that in the case of God Speaks Meher Baba went over the entire book word by word, having them read out loud to him, and making occasional changes to a single word.

As there is no record of which ones he did this to, except for the small record of one instance with one word in "Beyond Words," Baba seems to leave it to humanity to use some judgment. But as there are so many opinions, more and more there is a growing opinion that Baba's words as he left them in his lifetime ought not be tampered with further, even if they seem to us imperfect, beyond the occasional obvious typo, and even these are now recorded in a ledger for some of Baba's most important books.

This ends my little monologue on Meher Baba's words. I did not mean to imply that this blog is about any particular sense of the word "words." And in fact, the main focus of most of the 228 posts on this blog is on the plain old sense of words as in 'the things that Baba said.' And on that topic I'd like to end on a light note. For the topic of what stands as even an exact representation of Baba's own intended words is a subject too vast to be covered here.

The following story was recently told to me by my mother, Phyllis, and I'll give some back-story to it for those unfamiliar with who she is.

In 1965 my parents, Lynfield and Phyllis, went to India together and met Baba personally. It was my father's only time meeting him. My mother had met him once before, the previous year, but for her too this was to be her last parting as Baba dismissed them and they got up to leave.

Before parting Baba said his last silent words to them, interpreted to them from his gestures by his disciple Eruch who spoke excellent clear English. After they got out of the room Phyllis says she turned to Lyn and said,  "Wasn't that lovely? Baba said, 'Take me with you.'" And Lyn said, "No he didn't; he said, 'I am always with you.'

She then said to me, "Imagine that! We had just been with Baba a minute earlier, and we were already arguing about what he said."

With Phyllis on the Meher Center, September 2013
Photo by Anthony Zois of meherbabatravels.com

3 comments:

  1. The discussions and arguments about Baba's words and what they mean will go on and on. But, by and large, Baba's words are remarkably clear and straightforward- even if what they signify is sometimes mysterious. The Discourses were given as verbal points which then passed through several editors to reach their final form, yet Baba approved them and appended his name to them- yet they are by no means his words. The text of God Speaks except for Chapter X by Eruch was painstakingly dictated by Baba, yet Eruch's summary of the states of God is masterful. Baba had a prominent role in the editing of Stay With God and stated/ implied that after God Speaks it is the second most important Baba book, yet the words are not Baba's at all. Baba gave rise through Francis to the new genre of the English ghazal that will become the literary vehicle of the New Humanity. I take this to mean that Baba's Word manifests through the words of others in addition to his very own words.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Bill for raising this other large point. All you say is true. It seems there are so many angles to this subject.

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  2. it seems to just me ,,, that all your job is, is to be the keeper of the flame ,,, stop making the job harder than it is

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