09 July 2011

“Who Do You Take Me to Be?”

Guilty pleasure of a Jewish Baba-lover: watching Christian televangelists on the channels available down here in South Carolina. The good ones — Joyce Meyer, James and Betty Robison, Charles Stanley . . . and today, Saturday morning children’s puppet theater! A Sesame Street–like roving reporter-puppet with microphone seeks to ask puppet passersby with various skin colors, many of them speaking in rich Southern accents, the burning question: “Who is Jesus?” One puppet admits, “I don’t know nothin’ about nothin’.” Another mistakenly thinks he is being accused of some crime and shouts, “I didn’t do it!” An upper-class white-haired lady tries to recall whether she saw Jesus’ name in the society pages of the newspaper and then remembers, “He lives in the church,” and she helpfully gives the address. Finally, one puppet declares: “Jesus is whatever and whoever you need him to be, whenever you need him.”

Sure, atheists will say that the same thing can be said about tofu, but for people of faith it’s a darn good answer.

Baba-lovers are people of faith who believe that Meher Baba is one with the Christ. We believe it partly because Meher Baba declared explicitly that he was the Avatar — the Christ, the Messiah, the Rasul — the same Ancient One come again to awaken the world. Another reason why we believe it is that we deeply intuit and somehow are given the grace to recognize that he is the Christ. Some may even have felt Baba’s Christhood confirmed “in spirit,” as Darwin Shaw did: “I felt that he was truly the Christ and that I had been born to serve him. … At that time I thought of and visualized the Christ in the traditional Christian way, as Jesus. However, I did not expect him to return in the body he used in Galilee so long ago. Thus far, I had not seen his present form nor any pictures of him, but I was extremely anxious to get to him as soon as possible. After he came to me in spirit, I felt that I should go immediately in search of him” (Darwin Shaw, As Only God Can Love).

Learning from a newspaper article about Meher Baba’s presence in America, Darwin eventually arrived at the object of his search. Of his meeting with Baba in New York City in 1934, when they gazed into each other’s eyes, Darwin wrote: “For me, it was an indescribably glorious moment. This was our first glimpse into the infinite pools of Divine Love that were Meher Baba’s eyes. His handshake might have reached down through some two thousand years to clasp mine at that moment. I saw him as the Christ, and no words can adequately describe what poured forth from my heart as I recognized the Beloved — the living Christ. I felt instant rapport with him and experienced a great spiritual upliftment. It was like the fulfillment of an ‘impossible dream.’ I was overjoyed. Baba’s Beauty, the sweetness of his love, which could not be expressed in words — the joy, the sparkling wonder of his Being! One could not prefigure him. One could not imagine how it would be, what he would be like. He was more than one could imagine — much more, immeasurably more.”

Countess Nadine Tolstoy also experienced an awakening to Meher Baba’s identity on her first encounter with him: “I saw Christ before me . . . in the expression of all His figure and His divinely lit-up face, in His eyes beaming love.” Indeed, Meher Baba told an Indian newspaper reporter: “I am the Christ, the personification of love.”

Baba has said that only relatively few recognize the Avatar while he is on earth — which I take to include what he called the “Avataric period,” the 100 years following his death when his presence and influence on earth are felt just as strongly as when he was in the body . . . whereafter they gradually wane until it becomes necessary for the Avatar to take birth once again. (Of course, the Avatar is never away or apart from us, even during the “darker” ages; he is that aspect of God who is always in conscious contact with humanity, ever guiding and responsive.) Baba said that in the future the whole world will come to him (just as the masses eventually came to the previous Avataric Advents); but blessed are those who recognize him now. To be able to recognize the Avatar is his gift to us. How, otherwise, could we ordinary people distinguish between a worldly person of outstanding goodness, a pretend saint, a genuine saint, a Perfect One, or the Highest of the High, the Christ?

Numerous accounts are given of how Baba would frequently ask his lovers, “Who do you take me to be?” For example, Raj Khilnani reports that Baba would ask him and his brother Vinod, “Who am I? Who do you take me to be?” They would say, “You are God.” Baba said, “Are you just talking with your lips, or do you really feel it in your heart?” Raj replied, “Baba, I feel it in my heart.” Raj reports that Baba asked this question many times. This is just one of many such exchanges recounted in the Baba literature. It tells us that Meher Baba wants us to know and remember and feel in our hearts that he is the Christ, God in human form. In a moment of doubt, Bili Eaton once asked Baba, “Baba, are you my Master?” Baba replied, “Master? I am your God!”

Meher Baba has said that as there is only one God, therefore there is only one Avatar, one Christ, one Holy Prophet, but he comes in different forms, at different times, in different parts of the world, always with one aim: to redeem humanity when it loses its purpose and goes astray; and always, as God in human form, he suffers infinitely, though he is the source of all happiness.

Meher Baba does not “replace” the previous Avatars, each of whom has his own identity and personality (though through all the advents the Christ displays certain recognizable attributes). The scholar Charles Purdom (1883-1965) has given an informed opinion of the relationship between Meher Baba and Jesus Christ, which is worth reading in its entirety in his book The God-Man, available for free download at the AMB Trust site and in a print edition newly reissued by Sheriar Foundation and for sale at Sheriar Books. In a letter to Jane Barry Haynes upon the publication of The God-Man in 1964, Purdom confided that the second part of the book (discussing the issues raised by Baba’s claim) was the most difficult for him, but that on the whole he was pleased with it, helping him to clear up his own thought about Meher Baba as the God-Man (Jane Barry Haynes, Letters of Love for Meher Baba, p. 317).

Here is an excerpt from that second part of The God-Man:

It seems to me that to see the way of Jesus in Baba or the way of Baba in Jesus is not to diminish Jesus or to suppose that Baba is a substitute for him in any way whatever. Jesus cannot be replaced. Whatever has been thought from time to time in periods of stress, or whatever has been declared in the face of heresy, the Christian mystics have never supposed that while Jesus Christ is the way he alone as a historical figure is the only way: his way is the only way, but his way has been in the world from the beginning: the way of obedience, sacrifice and love. I understand Baba to mean this when he reminds Christians who come to him that they should practise their own religion. Sometimes people are confused about this, because it seems that in Jesus and Baba they have two Masters — the same question arises in India as between Krishna and Baba — but there is no dilemma if it be realized that the Masters are one. There is no obligation to choose one and reject the other. Jesus said that no one can serve two masters, when he was contrasting God and Mammon, but he was not telling his fellow Jews to give up their way or worship, or the Samaritans theirs, or the Greeks theirs, when he said “Follow me.”

How then should we understand the relation of Baba to Jesus? This appears to be as difficult a question as that of the relation of religions with each other. When one is committed to a particular religion, as indeed one must be to be able to appreciate the inwardness of religion at all, it is hard to avoid a somewhat equivocal attitude towards other religions; one seems bound to assert that one’s own religion is in some way superior to or more complete than others. The best treatment of the subject known to me is contained in the works of the Swiss scholar, Fruthjof Schuon, in particular, The Transcendent Unity of Religions (1953). An excellent discussion on the God-Man is by the Russian Vladimir Soloryer (1853-1900) in Lectures on God-Manhood (1878). The subject has certainly not been ignored by others, whose conclusions, however, I find uneasy. Fruthjof Schuon is Christian, Protestant, with a profound knowledge of Islam and Eastern religions, while Soloryer was Christian Orthodox with a deep knowledge of the Eastern and Roman theologies and some knowledge of Eastern religions; I refer the reader to their books. Schuon says: “If Christ had been the only manifestation of the Word, supposing such uniqueness of manifestation to be possible, the effect of His birth would have been the instantaneous reduction of the universe to ashes.”

My own conclusion is that no satisfactory answer to the question of the relation between Jesus and Baba is possible unless we can agree that both manifest the same Eternal Consciousness; they are not identical persons, neither are they repetitions of each other: the work of each is unique. Therefore, to suppose that Baba is the Palestinian Jesus come again, is a fundamental error.

There are pictures [photos] of Baba in which he is represented as the suffering Jesus, as there are pictures of him as Krishna. This kind of devotion is sometimes to be found in the treatment of the lives of Christian saints, in particular St. Francis of Assisi, whose life has been presented in such a way as to resemble the life of Christ. Dante himself is not innocent of this, for he found in St. Francis, to use Baron von Hügel’s words, “the reproduction of the divine paradox of the life of Jesus.” It is true that the Christian does aim to be, as Kierkegaard said, “contemporaneous with Christ,” but that does not mean that he repeats in himself the life of Christ, which was once for all, but that he sees with Christ’s eyes the reality of God in the changing and imperfect world. It is a fact that to see Baba walking through the streets of Indian villages, when he gives darshan, is to see what is not unlike what must have taken place when Jesus walked in Judea and Galilee. In the same way the people press upon him, mothers carry their children, the old and the diseased strive to get near him, the disciples push the people back, making way, he stopping them, beckoning to the mothers and children, touching them, and giving blessing. … In a sense this is Christ come again, I have said to myself. Yet to think of Baba as the ‘Second Coming’ in the Christian sense, as I have found people do, is to misinterpret that extremely subtle doctrine, which certainly does not mean in any literal sense that Jesus will come again as he was before, as though it were necessary for his humanness to be recognized again; his second coming is “in glory.” Besides, Jesus did appear “in glory” after his death, to his friends, when the sensuous nature (man) was manifested in the spiritual (God), upon which faith the Christian Church was founded.

The God-Man is the exteriorization of the divine inwardness, the manifestation in visible sensual form of transcendent Godhead. He presents man in his relation to that which is beyond Nature and presents God in him. In him is reconciled the Eastern conception of identity between the human and the divine with the Western conception of unity. As God is more than the God of this world, so the God-Man is more than the Man of this world. Indeed, his light is for the entire creation, not simply our galaxy but the infinite galaxies: for him “the whole creation travails in pain.”


Marc L said...

Excellent post. I couldn't help but think of the Dr. Who TV series. Originally, the character of the Doctor, who is a member of an alien race known as Time Lords, lived for a very long time and was able to regenerate 12 times, which solved the problem of having different actors play the same character over the many years the show has existed. Apparently, the show's creators have now declared that the Doctor is immortal.

So, at various times, the character "dies," but goes through a regeneration, where he gets a new appearance and a new personality (although the personality is loosely based on the others).

At the beginning of each regeneration, the Doctor is a bit crazy, as it takes a while for him to settle into his new identity. This brings to mind the period of semi-conciousness that Baba experienced after being kissed on the forehead by Hazrat Babajan.

Finally, the Doctor is always accompanied by a number of human companions who could be compared with disciples or mandali.

Kendra Crossen Burroughs said...

We'll have to add Doctor Who to the list of previous Avatars!

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.