Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Death of the Meher Baba Movement, and why it's a good thing.

What are the demographics over time of the Meher Baba movement?

This has been a topic of interest to me for over twenty years, and I have made a bit of a study of it. As there is no formal initiation or membership in anything, no dues, there are obviously no membership roles. This is not controversial. Any figures in books are mere guesses. Therefore all we have to rely on is testimony of people around the Western world.

Some of the figures I will give are based on assessments of mailing lists that I was privileged to on certain occasions. The rest is from living in many cities, knowing the lay of the land, and from friends in Europe. The number of genuine Baba followers from earlier times (namely the 1930s and 1950s) are based on questioning people from that time.

1930s and 50s

Baba first came to the West in 1931 and made several trips in the 1930s. Although Baba received some press, and gave several public addresses (read out by a disciple, prepared in advance) those that called him their 'master' until their death was in the tens of people. They would not be hard to list.

However, by the time Baba made his final visit to America in 1958 there were -- as estimated by those of the time -- about 225 people. These continued to follow him until their death, some still alive.

1960s and 70s

Due to the 1960s counterculture, many hippies in America and England came to Baba and stayed. Between 1967 and 1977 the numbers swelled from about 225 to about 3000. All of these people had a certain profile. More than half were from middle class or upper class white Jewish families from New York, born between 1945 and 1952. A bit less than half were from the same demographic, except not Jewish, from the West Coast. Virtually all were heavily into drugs at the time they heard of Baba, and drugs play the dominant role in their 'story.' Most stopped taking drugs after choosing to follow him and joining the 'in-group' of American followers. There were much fewer in Europe.

1980s

After 1977 new members dropped to almost none, and the numbers were continuous at about 3000. However, for no clear reason, in 1986 about 50 new followers joined the group, mostly of the same age and regional demographic (East and West Coast, same age, mostly but not all Jewish).

Today

United States

Today, due to death of ex-hippies that follow Baba, and the older group from the 1950s, the numbers remain about the same. There are about 3000 that are of the 'hippie generation today lingering on, in close largely socially closed groups. These people never fully assimilated into the general population. They hire each other, divorce and marry each other, etc.

Now what about the children and grand children of the baby boom followers?

Almost all of them did not choose to join their parents' chosen 'faith' and stopped calling themselves followers. Those that continued to call themselves followers chose to studiously avoid reading about him. The reason for this is not known. They are far less likely to marry or hire each other, and are more assimilated with the general American population.

Almost no new followers younger than the baby boom actually found Baba on their own. Nearly all are second or third generation.

Now here is the most shocking demographic change. Baba followers born after 1952 number only about 300 individuals.

Thus you have about 100 that are older than the baby boom nationwide, about 3000 born between 1945 and 1952, and about 300 born after 1952.

If we were to put that on a graph, the result would be a shocking bell curve.

Now to see the implications of this, in 2022 (5 years from now) 90% of self-described Baba followers in the US will be between 70 and 77 years old. In other words, the Baba followers are dying out in America.

So where are they?

Baba followers gather into 'groups' usually in metropolitan areas on the East and West Coasts. Group sizes range from about 100 to 300 per group. The main centers of Baba lovers clustering are:

Myrtle Beach
Asheville, NC
Brooklyn
Washington, D.C.
Chicago
Portland
San Francico
Los Angeles

There are virtually no Baba followers in Middle America. Some towns in middle America do, however, have numbers ranging from 5–10 that meet in group meetings to read or discuss Baba, perform prayers, and socialize.

England

There are about 200 Baba followers in England, and about 100 in Australia.

Europe

When we get to Continental Europe the numbers are surprising. The number of Baba followers in all of Continental Europe (excluding Russia) is in the 10s. This I have on very reliable sources. There is a single known Baba follower in Scotland, about 3 or 4 in France, zero in Greece, etc.

Middle East and Eurasia

Now where are there growing Baba groups? Growing Baba groups are occurring in Russia, Iran (both Muslim and Zoroastrian), China, Japan, Korea, and Argentina. Combined, their numbers are in the hundreds, not thousands. They are of all ages, and of diverse background.

India

Calculating Baba followers in India is difficult, due to the nature of the Hindu faith. It is said Hinduism has three million gods. Many people in modern times are considered 'avatars' or 'God-men' in Hinduism. Adding a new avatar (reincarnation of some advanced person or incarnation of some god or divine aspect) offers no contradiction in Hinduism. Thus finding a picture of Baba next to a statue of Krishna or Shiva alongside pictures of several other modern saints -- Shirdi Sai Baba, Sathya Sai Baba, etc. -- does not mean they are Baba followers in the strict sense; it means they are typical Hindus. Pilgrimage to Baba's tomb is also no indication of numbers, as Hindus in India are happy to visit the shrines of many saints, masters, and deities during pilgrimage seasons. Almost no Muslims in India follow Baba.

Hence, who is a Baba follower in India is impossible to calculate by these measures. The highest estimate from a prominent Trustee that has traveled India broadly is one million, mostly in the state of Andrah Pradesh. I think this is generous, but it could be true. However even if it is one million, that is less than one tenth of one percent of the population (0.08%).

A more reasonable estimate of true Baba followers in India is about 10,000. These would be identifiable as people who accept Baba as "the" Avatar, by his own definition, and not just another addition to their pantheon.

I'll get to why this is all a good thing, and not a bad thing, in a later addendum.


The 'Youth Sahavas'

I feel I need to say something about the Youth Sahavas in America. These are gatherings conducted by the hippy-aged adults of bringing teenagers to the Meher Center in South Carolina each year for one week from around the western world. These are usually 2nd or 3rd generation children of followers, and is conducted as a summer camp.

Some would assume that since these camps have been conducted since 1991, there must be many followers that are young. But a misunderstanding of the facts belies this false assumption.

The age range is about 13-17 (five years). While the original Youth Sahavas in 1991 had about 80 teenagers, this was because they were the children of the baby boom followers. In subsequent years these numbers have decreased to about 10 new 'freshman' campers each year. So you have about 50 'campers' in any one year, ten of whom are actually new. This means that in the 25 years since 1991 (allowing for a large first year) about 350 campers passed through the camp. But it is a noncontroversial fact that most do not remain Baba followers after their last year participating. They go because it is fun and their parents pay for it, but do not remain Baba followers in general. Only a very small percentage are still Baba followers ten years later. Hence the annual youth Sahavas gives the illusion of a new 'generation' of Baba followers.

The age range of past Youth Sahavas graduates is 14 – 41. The number of older ones that still follow Baba is about 150 adults, from all over the country, and a few from Australia.



Why this is not bad, but hopeful

These figures establish one fact. Baba following is not really a movement at all, but something dying out that occurred in the late-sixties and mid-seventies, then swiftly diminished having new followers.

It is to Baba's great credit that he strongly discouraged proselytizing and recruitment of followers, and said large crowds are not what he is about. If you read the quotes by Baba in this article, you'll see that Baba never meant for things to be otherwise. Baba was not creating a new religion. Baba said the world has enough religions. He even said he hadn't come to form a spiritual society or organization. He came to bring new life to the old, to revitalize the 'great religions' of the past.



What Baba means by bringing the great religions together like beads on one string is still not understood, and is open to numerous interpretations. But gathering them into one single homogenous new one seems not to be one of them.

He seems to have the idea of bringing a new mystical experience to them, that they might find their common thread and live in harmony with one another.

Now in the 1960's, due to the influx of the 'flower children' as a movement, many ideas were imposed on Baba that had nothing to do with his central message -- including a vast amount of superstition and extreme left ideology. Through promoters like Pete Townshend of The Who fame, Baba even became associated with psychedelic culture itself.

If one honestly examines Baba's strong positions against drugs, birth control, abortion, occult channeling, military draft evasion, and politics, and his strong emphasis of marriage, duty to country, and traditional family, it is hard to see how this mix with sixties pop culture had any basis of any kind. It was simply the result of those people at that one specific time co-opting his message and reinterpreting it in a 'hipster' anti-Christian light. Some of the earliest western posters of Baba were in day-glow. The interest in Baba as from the 'East' had more to do with a rejection of their own Western Christian and Jewish culture, and less to do with anything else.

This period is ending, and by 2039, few followers from that period will be left alive, and fewer with vitality. It is hence interesting to consider what Baba said about this date.

In 1958, standing next to his tomb that had been built 20 years earlier to house his body when he died, Baba said:
Seventy years after I drop my body [meaning die, thus after 2039], this place [his tomb] will turn into a place of pilgrimage, where lovers of God, philosophers and celebrities will come to pay homage. (Lord Meher, 1986 print version, p. 5296. *This date is repeated on p. 5363)
It is interesting that he named 'philosophers.' It is the only profession he named. He did not say 'priest' or 'theologians' or 'anthropologists.' He named philosophers.

Knowing something about the state of philosophers today, this is an uncanny statement. Philosophers don't pay homage to tombs. The implication is that something in his teaching he anticipates will then spark keen new interest intellectually in the world. It foretells a new framing of things at a very deep core metaphysical level. A new understanding of the old? That is what I myself anticipate.

As the psychedelic Baba culture in the West dies out, some new angle of interest will be ignited we cannot yet imagine – clearly divorced from psychedelic politics, and more sober and thoughtful.

Conclusion

The passing phase of western followers born out of MKULTRA experiments in the 50s and 60s will be not negative, but open up a new window not mired and stained with anti-culture ideology and resistance of the past. Then new life might indeed be breathed into the old.

The counter-culture movement that formed the core of Baba's western following after his death, that is now fading away, was not without its merits. Highly devoted, those ex-hippie followers worked hard to preserve his legacy -- his books, films, photos, and artifacts -- that without care would have vanished for that coming rediscovery in a more sober and rational time. If one adopts belief in reincarnation, many of those followers would likely be among that first sober wave, gleaning Baba in light of traditions without anti-western bias.

Why do I say western? For many reasons. Baba said that the spiritual revival will come from America eventually due to its enormous energy, that he said he would re-channel.
The spiritual revival that you ask about is not very far off and I am going to bring it about in the near future, utilizing the tremendous amount of misapplied energy possessed by America for this purpose. Such a spiritual outburst as I visualize usually takes place every seven or eight hundred years, at the end or beginning of a cycle, and it is only the Perfect One, who has reached the Christ state of consciousness, that can appeal and work so very universally. My work will embrace everything. It will affect and control every phase of life ... In the general spiritual push that I shall impart to the world, problems such as politics, economics and sex will all be solved automatically and adjusted.

All collective movements and religions hinge around one personality who supplies the motive force, and without this centrifugal force, all movements are bound to fail. Perfect Masters impart spirituality by personal contact and influence, and the benefit that will accrue to different nations, when I bring about the spiritual upheaval, will largely depend upon the amount of energy each one possesses.

I now take orders from no one; it is all my supreme will. Everything is because I will it to be. Nothing is beyond my knowledge; I am in everything. There is no time and space for me; it is I who give them their relative existence. I see the past and the future as clearly and vividly as you see the material things about you. (Lord Meher, current online version, p. 1404)
I contend that the spiritual revival of which Baba speaks has not yet occurred. America's focus is still material and political, and not spiritual. This still lays in the near future, when people become disillusioned with political ideologies (so-called right and left and hate) and materialism and mere gratification. Instead what I see happening in the West is the spiritual upheaval he spoke of.

Currently the ex-hippie Baba lovers in the West obsess on hating a certain politican, feeling self-righteous in their furious hate, a vitriol that increasingly borders on murder. They have not even begun to see the new bourgeoning more advanced idea that the right-left paradigm is backward. How on Earth, I ask, is that a spiritual revival where great energy is being directed toward the inner and spiritual. It is entirely corporeal and material and politically driven. It has nothing to do with spirituality.

When the mandali (close disciples) were still alive, they kept the western 'hippie culture' followers more or less centered and focused. But now without them they have returned to their anti-cultural, anti-Christian, anti-nation, Marxist ideological concerns -- divorced from anything but hatred. They have no positive direction. Their kids take drugs and drift away, and have few to no families, simply living in serial relationships with birth control like Brave New World. That is not a spiritual revival or a spiritual movement. That is why the death of the Baba movement (a movement that Baba never endorsed) is not a bad thing at all.

The spiritual revival that Baba spoke of is still ahead of us. And have heart, for even the members of this current naive movement will reincarnate into that positive and sober world. And they themselves, among many, many others, will be the beneficiaries of their dutiful efforts to preserve Baba's legacy for that time.



* Note: The mention of 70 years, corresponding to the year 2039, was repeated by Baba not long after.
Again, he emphasized: "After I drop my body, my physical remains will rest here, and this Hill will become an important place of pilgrimage for the world. You all do not realize the importance of this day. After seventy years, this place will be a place of great privilege and pilgrimage. A big town will grow up here." (Lord Meher, 1986 print edition, p. 5363)

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