17 May 2007

Tales of Drunkenness and Cruelty: Does God Really Make Us Suffer?

In late 1999 I moved to a neighborhood three miles from Meher Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina—Meher Baba’s Home in the West. Soon afterward I heard an interesting piece of apocrypha: that Baba had said that his influence radiated out from the Center in a “seventeen-mile radius.” I also heard comments about how if you were caught in that seventeen-mile radius, you were finished—your life would be ruined.

It seems common for Baba-lovers to remark that when you come to Baba, he ruins your life. If you want something, Baba will make sure you don’t get it. Or if you have something, Baba will take it away. A joke that made the rounds recently asked, “How do you make Baba laugh?” And the answer: “Tell him your plans.”

Admittedly, one also hears Baba-lovers attributing their good fortune to Baba. After all, didn’t Baba advise (in the message “My Wish”), “When you feel happy, think: ‘Baba wants me to be happy.’ When you suffer, think: ‘Baba wants me to suffer.’ Be resigned to every situation and think honestly and sincerely: ‘Baba has placed me in this situation.’”? We are asked to create a “provisional ego” that attributes all our actions and experiences to the Master (see Discourses, “The Dynamics of Spiritual Advancement”). So maybe those who complain that Baba has it in for them are really obeying his advice to make Him our constant companion and think constantly of Him.

Still, something in me resists the idea that Meher Baba is deliberately making me suffer. It seems discourteous to accuse Baba of such meanness. Does the Lord of the Universe really place obstacles in our worldly path out of some perverse motivation to make us miserable until we surrender to His will?

Well, there is a tradition for it. It is well known in Sufism that whomever the Beloved loves, He slays. When we give our lives over to His care, He sets about dismantling our false self so that we can realize our real Self. Sufi literature speaks of the “tavern of ruin,” a state of total self-forgetfulness likened to the plight of a drunkard. Baba says, “The lover’s drunkenness begins with a drop of God’s love which makes him forget the world. The more he drinks, the closer he draws to his Beloved, and the more unworthy he feels of the Beloved’s love.” This is the real “ruin” that we are in for on this path of love—to become a kind of spiritual Bowery bum on the brink of death. We are told that this death or forgetfulness of the false self is what leads to the experience of union with the Divine Beloved. “First the moth must be consumed; then it may sit with the candle” (Kamal Khojandi).

But what is that to a hopeless destitute passed out in the gutter of Love Street? To us this death appears to be a slow and agonizing one in which we can look forward to all kinds of deprivation and loss. Baba has warned that the path of love is not for the faint-hearted and the weak. It takes real heroism to suffer not merely the adversities of ordinary life but the wounds we receive in the inner world. “The night is black, the sea is deep, and my fear of this whirling abyss is never felt by those resting on the shore” (Hafiz). Disgust for the world and longing for authentic love grow within us: “Flowers and orchards do not interest me. The garden has no charm without the Beloved” (Dard). At the same time there is the frustration of finding ourselves still shackled to mundane desires and attachments. Along with increasing reliance on Baba as the source of our sustenance comes the pain of feeling abandoned and ignored by Him. “I have been killed by Your love, and yet, You cruel Beloved, You do not even glance at me!” (Hafiz). The only comfort may come in reading Persian poems that tell us that this is just the way things are meant to be—we are exactly on course! In some mysterious way, He is cruel only to be kind. “Why are you bothered by whatever the Friend does? From His love there is both joy and pain.”

These painful spiritual opportunities are not something that awaits us in the future when we are dignified pilgrims treading the higher planes—they are experiences available to us gross-plane slobs right now! As ordinary people we experience all the ups and downs, the losses and disappointments, the daily humiliations, self-doubts, and sorrows that are the lot of everything that lives and breathes in this world of duality. But unlike ordinary people, we are asked to accept suffering as our labor of love to reach the Goal. “In Love, to face the torture open-eyed is purest joy. To close your eyes and die is something anyone can do” (Mir). Playing the divine game of lover and Beloved—with all its heartache—is actually the best and swiftest way to attain our heart’s desire.

Or so Baba tells us. If you believe Him, how blessed you are. Because if you really want to encounter unbearable suffering, just imagine a life without Beloved Baba.

It is impossible to explain, but at a certain point Baba actually makes suffering attractive. There is a strange kind of pleasure in it, even for those who are not advanced souls. If you haven’t experienced this pleasure yet, don’t make the insane mistake of thinking that such a bizarre experience is not meant for you. It is exactly meant for you. “Do not worry, because behind the curtain, undreamt-of scenes are being set in motion” (Hafiz).

But I think that in order to experience it, there may be a condition. It is expressed in a line found in the booklet Meher Baba Calling: “Either keep away from the wine of love of Beloved Baba or, if you taste it, seal your lips against complaints.” We must try not to complain too much about Baba’s ways, because part of His way is that He imparts His gift to those who remain outwardly cheerful and silent about the joys and sorrows of love. “Either peel off the layers of wounds of the heart and throw them out of sight, or accept the wounds of separation as positive signs of love” (Seemab). This may be part of the daring that Baba wants us to have on the path—the audacity to look beyond appearances to discover the treasure buried in the ruin.

If we do, who knows? We might find ourselves actually longing to live in that “seventeen-mile radius” (figuratively speaking), just to enjoy the pleasures of suffering for the Beloved!

“I tell myself: Hafiz, never let go of your love.

Whenever you find it, let the whole world slip by.”


Anonymous said...

This article answers questions I have long had, how to deal with what seems unusual suffering in comparison to others in the family, group of friends, etc. who hold with the notion that if you are having difficult times, you must be doing something wrong! That idea is destructive to say the least. Understanding that we must necessarily be disillusioned about this duality, and that it is Baba's kindness to do so, makes it much easier to bear, indeed to find joyful! The alternative to having this temporary pain of disillusion is to remain stuck in duality. What a tragedy that would be! Baba comes to awaken us now to find the avenue of escape in Him. It does seem ironic that the way to lasting joy seems to lie through the path of pain, humiliation, derision, lack, and distress. Yet, as we choose to hold fast to Him, the determination to keep holding on becomes stronger.

Thank you, Kenrea, for this article. For all the articles. I am enjoying your notebook tremendously.
Jai Baba,

Christina said...

Once, in '98 my car's automatic window stopped working and in frustration I said, "Why are you doing this, Baba?" and in response, I distinctly heard within myself, "I'm not doing anything; the mechanism is broken..."

So give Him a break.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kendra,

What a delightful well of spiritual insight you have going with this blog... Thank you for sharing it with us... (The Kinks quote sucked me in!)
On whether Baba makes us suffer, I kind of see it like God Himself is suffering because He's trapped into believing He's everything that He isn't... In Reality, we don't even exist, so when we feel pain, it's really He who is suffering from the self-delusion that He is us, and that He is bound by our myriad limited experiences... which, of course, He is not... if that makes ANY sense at all... and I think you're absolutely right, suffering is a profound spiritual opportunity for all of us... whether it's an opportunity wasted depends entirely on how we choose to receive it. Keep up the great work... I'll stop in to torture you from time to time, Kendra, don't waste the valuable opportunity!


Barbara Scott said...

Kendra, are you familiar with the Biblical quote (Hebrews something) "Whom the Lord loveth, he chastiseth"?
Barbara Scott

Anonymous said...

"My girlfriend's run off with my car and gone back to her Ma and Pa, telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty". - Ray Davies from the song, "Sunny Afternoon."

All quotes of Meher Baba © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust unless otherwise indicated. Writings by Kendra are © Kendra Crossen Burroughs unless otherwise noted.