Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Libraries and Archives

The Meher Baba world, community, groups, or whatever you want to call us who pay much attention to Baba and his life and teachings, are a famously uncentralized group. There is no official Church, religion, or organization, out of respect for Meher Baba's often-repeated statement that he had no interest in creating anything new such as that, but rather to put new life into the old.

The result is that there is no clear boundary around what is a Baba anything. Baba disliked the entire idea of the ego attaching itself to divisions on any grounds.

Meher Baba, Discourses, 1967, Vol.1, pp. 24-25

Even the word "Baba lovers," that Baba coined in the 1950s to include those who had not met him, as well as many who had but were not resident with him, is used today with some reservation by followers, adherents, and appreciators, as there is no clear definition of the term, since Baba never offered one. Yet it is the term we have, and "Baba lovers" is a term that has been written up by others as one that those who believe in some way in Baba allow themselves to be called.

There is no creed among Baba lovers or Baba groups. A creed is a list of beliefs that one can go over to determine if one belongs to a faith. Except for Christianity, most creeds of other religions are written by westerners who are not themselves adherents, in order to better categorize others by beliefs. Correct me if I'm wrong.* One most famous, I understand, is the "fourteen fundamental Buddhist beliefs" written by Henry Steel Olcott in 1881 in Sri Lanka to help Buddhists better identify themselves.

Anyway, Baba lovers differ on what they think, or even if they like the term "Baba lover." However, there are definitely people who are passionate in their belief that Meher Baba was indeed the Avatar, as he said he was. I count myself as one. I also count myself as a Baba lover. For those in the West, the very concept of an "Avatar" has been an exciting one. Many of us immediately recognize the implications if that is so, when we think of the world-shaping power of past figures Baba named as such, especially Jesus, whom we are so familiar with in the West. For much is known of the difficulty in straightening out the story and teachings of Jesus, due to the erosion of time, to the point where many are skeptical of numerous traditional beliefs about him and what he actually said. The situation is even worse with Buddha and so forth as we go backward in time. It is thus seen as a worthwhile project by many Baba aficionados to carefully preserve Baba's legacy as accurately and as well as they can.

Archival cupboards in Meher Baba Trust archive
And here is where libraries and archives come in. As I said there is no central authority in the Baba world, if you can call it a world. The closest thing to it is the Avatar Meher Baba Trust, but it has, so far as I know, never made a decree of what others must think or do. It has made suggestions, and mostly reminded centers around the world of things Baba said when it was pertinent to an event.

So the work of preserving the legacy of Meher Baba, his photos, sayings, messages, books, films, and even artifacts of his life, has fallen to many groups and individuals. Some form non-profits and accept donations to carry on the work. Donations are of course in the form of money and rare books and objects connected with his life.

One must include in this uncentralized volunteer effort to carefully preserve Baba's legacy, those who are independently doing research, while there are people to interview, and publishing these works. There is so much amassing around Baba's life, that it can honestly be said to appear to be expanding. For example it is now well understood that the amount of works and objects in the Meher Baba Archive in India is beyond what has even been catalogued at present.

Besides the archive in India, there is Avatar's Abode in Australia, Meher Baba Information, Sufism Reoriented, and Meherana in Northern California, the archives of the Meher Spiritual Center and Sheriar Foundation in Myrtle Beach, and Beloved Archives in New Jersey. These are only the ones I am aware of, and I hear that others are planned as new material and research continues to be discovered and collected.

Now all this brings me to my point. I am of the opinion that everyone involved in this work has roughly the same desire, and faces the same obstacle. Archiving the life of Meher Baba has two aspects. One is to preserve the original before it falls into decay. And the second is to use the modern means of scanning and digitizing to make nondestructive copies and make these available to the whole world. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of documents. When it comes to rare documents, this is naturally a tedious project and I have learned to give it time and not expect all to appear in my lifetime.

Here's why. If one simply scanned and put on line everything they could scrape together in a room, without not only reading it to see what it was, but even doing the tedious research to find out where it fits into the historical context, who collected it, when, and with what intention, then one does no one a service. It would confuse more than clarify.

Thus the research, preservation, and presenting has to be done at a careful pace. This, unfortunately, means temporarily making the most rare and in danger of disappearing material off limits to the general public. Books do disappear. Not all Baba lovers are honest even if Baba was. So there is the need for caution and care.

The full work of preserving properly and presenting facsimiles of this treasure will thus not be completed in our lifetimes. It will take generations.

Fragment of Chanji's Diaries
And the work of carefully preserving the original sources, letters, book editions, negatives, films, and so forth is critical for a reason. It is not simply devotional or worship of objects for their own sake. To explain, I'll give a funny example. There is a book that Baba is said to have written in his own hand in the 1920s, which has never been shown publicly and is considered missing. It is often called "The Missing Book" or "The Lost Book." Imagine how easy it would be in 100 years to make a claim that there never was such a book, that it was not beyond Baba's sense of humor to simply carry around an empty black box, or one filled with blank pages, or a stone. However, on a ship in 1931 Baba allowed Mahatma Gandhi to read a couple of pages. This is well recorded. The celebrity of Gandhi saying that he had seen a portion of the book goes a long way in establishing that it existed. Imagine then if all the original letters and manuscripts containing Baba's words were allowed to decay, or be disbursed and lost. And imagine that in their place we simply put out new publications from here forward containing edited forms of those works. It would be very easy for someone to one day simply claim it was all made up after Baba's death. And that is why having the actual original documents and objects will prove to be important.

Baba's patched coat
The story of Baba with a New Life Caravan is fascinating, but might grow difficult to believe, if it were not that the Caravan itself is preserved. That he wore his jackets and sandals in the 20s to the point of their being more patches than material would also grow to sound like a legend if the items were not currently preserved in controlled conditions in India.

Below is the habit of St. Francis of Assisi, who lived 800 years ago, whose story is so incredible some actually do call his life a myth today. Hence the importance of preserving such relics of antiquity.

The monk's habit of St. Francis of Assisi

* As per my request for corrections about creeds, an American professor contacted me with this:

Maimonides creed 13 Principles of Jewish Belief was written from within the Jewish community, albeit late and albeit to catch up to the Christians and Muslims.

Update 11-6-2014:

I forgot to add one point I have long been saving for this subject. It is the last line of a scene in Angels and Demons with Tom Hanks, showing that audiences think it is liberated thinking to steal from holy archives – as if morality itself were the enemy of enlightenment. The same scene is repeated in a hall of records in China Town, by actor Jack Nickolson. The irony is that such short sighted attitudes as portrayed in these popular movies are in fact why archives are by necessity off limits to the general public.

                                 p. 34 

INT.   Vatican archive    DAY                             

         English? Why English? 
         No one spoke it at the Vatican. It 
         was considered polluted. Too free- 
         thinking, the language of radicals 
         like Shakespeare and Chaucer. 

He rotates the book. 

         Another line. 

He keeps rotating the book, finds two more tiny lines written at the very edges, barely visible to the naked eye. 

         “The path of light is laid, the sacred 
         test...“ I need a pen, we have to 
         transcribe this. 

         Sorry, Professor.    No time. 

Before Langdon can do anything to stop her, she RIPS the page from the text and shoves it in her pocket. 

Langdon's jaw drops. He shoots a look over his shoulder at Lt. Chartrand, but the man's back is turned.

         Ah, what the hell.

He SNAPS the magnifying glass off the end of its pole.


  1. It's funny you mentioned the term 'Baba lovers,' since it came up (for the 2nd time) recently after I had asked David Fenster if he was aware whether this statement by Leatrice seemed true (it did not seem true to me): "[Leatrice] told us about her participation in the East-West Gathering [1962]: 'This was the first time we were called "Baba Lovers.'" --Glow International, August 2000. I was not aware of this post at the time.
    David found a letter from Eruch from 7 Aug.1955 that used the term: ' I write all this piece of information to help all "Baba lovers" at your side, to decide for themselves, once for all, whether they would still hold fast to Baba's "daaman" with a tight grip of pure love alone...' The term "lovers" as in "my lovers" appears much earlier (Highest of the High message, 1953, and even in the late 20s if you believe dialog in LM.) It's not hard to see the leap from "lovers" as in "lovers of God" (and it was probably a term that appeared in Persian poetry) to "Baba lovers." I have not thoroughly researched this, since it's time-consuming to do so. And I am not sure it's really important to me at this time exactly when Baba began using the term. I just wondered about Leatrice's saying that and I concluded that it struck her as being the first time and it must have been specially meaningful to her. However, since you (Chris) say that Baba coined it in the 50s, can you say where is your first citation for that? I wonder if he made any special remark about it.

    1. Here are a few uses by Baba of the term "Baba lovers."

      1954: But do bear in mind this much, that those who really want to work for me should live the life of Baba's love, that is, show people how you love Baba, and then you will have Baba lovers all around you.

      1955: In Andhra, there are Baba lovers from a [government] minister on down to a coolie and they all do Baba work honestly, going from village to village carrying my message of love.

      1959: My dear ones in the district need no tutoring for them to feel established in their love for me and faith in me. Such a yagna would be tantamount to tampering with the innocent hearts of Baba-lovers.

      1962: Here is a warning to Baba lovers: Either keep away from this wine of love of Beloved Baba, or if you taste it, seal your lips against all complaints!

      The earliest use of just the term "my lovers" that I could find is from 1927:

      "My face is swollen and red from the bees' stings, not because of divine radiance. See what I must endure at the hands of my lovers. They always wish to garland me and I permit it for the sake of their happiness, yet how I suffer. Such is my fate." (Lord Meher, 1986, p. 913)