Another View of the Manifestation: The Mystery
by Kenneth Lux
In the beautiful and marvelously compact account of Meher Baba’s life on the Meher Spiritual University site, “Who is Meher Baba?” there is a problem. In this essay I hope to elucidate that problem, which will imply a solution. The problem relates to the issue of Baba’s Manifestation. In a recently released small book, The Mystery of the Manifestation: Suddenism, Gradualism, and Nihilism, I present an account of the Manifestation, whose whole premise contradicts the account in the biographical essay, “Who is Meher Baba?”
The biographical essay offers a certain view of Meher Baba’s Manifestation. In this present account I will make the case that there are other views. But that in itself is not the problem I am primarily speaking of, and it would be easy to miss this point. My main point in this account is not so much to advance an argument for another view of the Manifestation, but to say that since other points of view on the Manifestation do exist, the fact that MSU offers a biographical account as if there is only one point of view does an injustice to this whole matter. I see this as particularly a problem in the academic and scholarly context of the University. While any presentation of Baba’s Manifestation should accommodate all significant points of view on it, to not do this in what is conceived of as a “university” setting is particularly short-changing.
Before proceeding further, I want to make one thing clear. In the above I do not mean to suggest that the biographical account has intentionally ignored or avoided any other point of view. I believe that it is extremely likely the case that either the biographical account is so fixed on its own perspective that it is not even aware of other perspectives, or that, if it is aware of other perspectives, it considers them so unlikely that they are not even worth mentioning. There may be other possibilities, but I am not able to imagine what they may be. Regardless, in this essay I hope to make the case that such an approach is untenable.
Now to proceed. In the recent book mentioned above, I contrast two main positions on Baba’s Manifestation, which I call “Gradualism” and “Suddenism.” There are others and they are presented in that book, but I need not go into them here.
The approach taken in the biographical essay falls into the Gradualist category. To understand this, let me begin by presenting some statements from Baba on the breaking of his silence and his Manifestation that support the opposite point of view, “Suddenism.” Here are two that are most well known. In his discourse “The Avatar,” Baba has explained:
As [the Avatar’s] appearance always coincides with the spiritual regeneration of man, the period immediately preceding His Manifestation is always one in which humanity suffers from the pangs of the approaching rebirth. Man seems more than ever enslaved by desire, more than ever driven by greed, held by fear, swept by anger. The strong dominate the weak; the rich oppress the poor, large masses of people are exploited for the benefit of the few who are in power. The individual, who finds no peace or rest, seeks to forget himself in excitement. Immorality increases, crime flourishes, religion is ridiculed. Corruption spreads throughout the social order. Class and national hatreds are aroused and fostered. Wars break out. Humanity grows desperate. There seems to be no possibility of stemming the tide of destruction.
At this moment the Avatar appears. . . . The Avatar awakens contemporary humanity to a realization of its true spiritual nature, gives Liberation to those who are ready, and quickens the life of the spirit in his time. For posterity is left the stimulating power of His divinely human example. . . .
Let us note that it is possible to read this statement as implying that the Avatar’s physical appearance itself is the Manifestation. However, as we go further in this discourse, that interpretation is not supported, for Baba then said:
Those who are spiritually awake have been aware for some time that the world is at present in the midst of a period such as always precedes Avataric Manifestation. . . . For the moment they must be patient. The wave of destruction must rise still higher, must spread still further.
Here, Baba clearly indicates that despite his being physically present, the pre-Manifestation wave of destruction must rise still higher, thus confirming that the Avatar’s physical appearance on earth is not equivalent to his Manifestation. Then he goes on to say, “But when, from the depths of his heart, man desires something more lasting than wealth and something more real than material power, the wave [of destruction] will recede. Then peace will come, joy will come, light will come.” Here it is possible to read this as meaning that the change comes about strictly as a result in people’s hearts, and not through any specific special event initiated by the Avatar—which, again, is a Gradualist interpretation. However, this is clearly not supported by the ringing conclusion of the discourse:
The breaking of my silence—the signal for my public Manifestation—is not far off. I bring the greatest treasure it is possible for man to receive—a treasure that includes all other treasures, that will endure forever, that increases when shared with others. Be ready to receive it.
The critical and necessary change that the Avatar’s public Manifestation brings about is also very simply and unambiguously expressed in the discourse “The New Humanity”: “It [the world upheaval of this period] is all part of the divine plan, which is to give to the hungry and weary world a fresh dispensation of the eternal and only truth.” Following this, we will witness in the world “those transformations that will make the further spiritual advance of humanity safe and steady.”
Then, in Baba’s Universal Message, we have:
I veil myself from man by his own curtain of ignorance, and manifest my Glory to a few. My present Avataric Form is the last Incarnation of this cycle of time, hence my Manifestation will be the greatest. When I break my Silence, the impact of my Love will be universal and all life in creation will know, feel, and receive of it. It will help every individual to break himself free from his own bondage in his own way. I am the Divine Beloved who loves you more than you can ever love yourself. The breaking of my Silence will help you to help yourself in knowing your real Self.
All this world confusion and chaos was inevitable and no one is to blame. What had to happen has happened; and what has to happen will happen. There was and is no way out except through my coming in your midst. I had to come, and I have come. I am the Ancient One.
From 1926—marking one year of his silence, a time when Baba had “promised” he would speak but did not—right through his dropping the body on January 31, 1969, Baba gave out many and continual messages about the impending breaking of his silence, and they all were of a similar nature as the above. In some of these messages he added that the breaking of his silence would not be a string of words, as from a philosopher, but a single utterance, the Word of Words, and this is a designation of that Word that is referred to in all the great religious traditions:
When I break my silence it will not be to fill your ears with spiritual lectures. I shall speak only one word, and this Word will penetrate the hearts of all men and make even the so-called sinner feel that he is meant to be a saint, while the saint will know that God is in the sinner as much as He is in himself.
If you were to ask me when I will break my silence, I would say, when I feel like uttering the only real Word that was spoken in the beginningless beginning, as that Word alone is worth uttering. The time for the breaking of my outward silence to utter that Word is very near.
All those closely connected with Meher Baba expected him to break his silence during his lifetime, as well they would, given Baba’s assertions about it, even in just the minimal examples I have given above. The Mandali, who had been through more than a few episodes of Baba’s not breaking his silence as he had forecast, and thus seemed to be unconcerned about when he would break his silence, nonetheless still expected that it would happen before Baba dropped his body. In fact, it is rather remarkable that among the Mandali almost no attention was paid to the possibility of Baba’s dying. One reason this was a non-topic was certainly not avoidance or denial on the part of the Mandali and Baba-lovers, but rather Baba’s ongoing declarations and statements about the imminence of the breaking of his silence and his specifying that he would not lay aside his physical body until he had done so. One could even say that Baba’s theme of breaking his silence “hid” his eventual death. Because of his frequent and ongoing emphasis on breaking his silence, there was little attention to or even conscious awareness of the fact that he would die. One could speculate that this hiding of his death might have been one of the purposes of Baba’s references to breaking his silence before dropping the body, but if that is so, we would certainly have to say that this was not the only purpose or even a significant purpose.
From the above we can see that the Avatar comes with a mission and work of world renewal. During his lifetime it is quite clear that this renewal had not yet come about, and the reason was quite clear: Baba had not yet broken his silence. This situation was quite plainly and directly stated by Francis Brabazon in an introduction to a booklet of statements of Meher Baba about the breaking of his silence. Francis said that Baba “was the one who promised so much and performed so little.” We can guess that Francis could be so bold about stating this because he fully expected that Baba would break his silence.
The straightforward approach towards Baba’s Manifestation and his worldwide renewal as the Avatar can be called “Suddenism.” This means that the breaking of the silence will be a sudden event as described by Meher Baba in all these statements. But when Meher Baba dropped his body in 1969 without breaking his silence, a paradox and mystery were created. The Suddenist answer to this mystery is that Baba has yet to break his silence. When he does so, the renewal of a world that is in ever-increasing crisis will occur.
The biographical account does not refer to any of the above and simply quotes a certain kind of statement that Baba has made. Here it is in context from the biographical account:
Meher Baba always stressed that he began his silence in order to break it. By choosing to speak from silence, he speaks the word of God in our time. This Word is an inner Word heard only in the depths of our being. As Baba himself expressed it:
“External silence helps inner silence and only in internal silence is Baba found; in profound inner silence. I am never silent. I speak eternally. The voice that is heard deep within the soul is my voice.”
This, then, is the spiritual revolution Meher Baba came to bring: the awakening of Divine love within each individual.
I refer to such an account as “Gradualism” because it asserts that Meher Baba’s Manifestation and world-renewal will come about gradually as Baba’s Divine love is awakened over time in each individual. This also would imply that the world crisis, though still at present huge and overwhelming, in some way, though not easy to observe, is gradually abating.
The statement from Baba quoted above can be supplemented by numerous others, and I’ll just give one more: “God has been everlastingly working in silence, unobserved, unheard, except by those who experience His Infinite Silence.”
So we see here that in addition to the mystery of Baba’s having dropped the body without breaking his silence in the way that we expected from his many messages about it, there is also the mystery of two kinds of statements about it that he has made. The most prominent and the most well known ones, at least before he dropped the body, were the statements that conformed to Suddenism, and I have quoted some of the most well known of those. Then, we now see that there is another class of statements about breaking his silence that Baba made which support the idea that he is always breaking his silence and that this is a gradual event that is ongoing in time.
Let us first speculate how a Gradualist interpretation would explain the Suddenist statements of Baba. As was often the case with Baba, he would say one thing and do another. He did this for his own purposes, and we could not always or even mostly understand why he did so. This was the case with his Suddenist statements.
From the other side, the Suddenist explanation of the Gradualist statements might be that they refer to the eternal nature of God’s silence, but not to his work in the time process as the Avatar. But the Gradualist may counter this by saying that the Avatar’s work in time is to bring to humanity the awareness of the eternal nature of God’s silence. But such a back and forth need not be an irresolvable debate. The resolution would hinge on the issue of whether the world situation is still getting worse, as Baba had described during his lifetime, or is gradually getting better. Some further passage of time, and it may not be much, could show us the answer to this.
A Gradualist may also respond to Francis’s quote above about Baba’s promise versus his performance by quoting the speech Francis gave at the Last Darshan: “What a Mighty Beloved is our Beloved,” referring to the phenomenon of hundreds of people who had never met Baba coming to that event to bow down to Baba in their hearts. So this, then, was the heretofore missing performance. Francis then said that these few did what everyone must eventually do, “journey across the world of illusion to take darshan of him in their hearts.” And this latter is a clear expression of Gradualism.
To this a Suddenist might say what I myself said as one of those same few Last Darshaners who had made that journey at that time. In an article on it in The Awakener (vol. 13, nos.1–2) at that time, I wrote:
D. H. Lawrence wrote a well-known short story about Christ—The Man Who Died. Now that Baba has dropped his physical body He becomes “The Man Who died,” and in time will become more widely known as the Avatar. The personification of God is always seen as historical rather than contemporary, so that it now may seem “safe” for the world to come to Baba. The fact that the God-Realized man was rather than is, somehow lends credence to his identity. But after being at darshan I am quite convinced that Baba is not historical at all, body or no body, and therefore he will fool humanity when he manifests. He will suddenly convert his existence as a recent figure of the past, to someone who is very much present. Then with full consciousness, we will recognize our common Godhood.
Baba had once said, “Be composed in the Reality of My Love, for all confusion and despair is your own shadow, which will vanish when I speak The Word.” When will this happen? No one can say. But getting there will be a thrilling divine romance.
Now to go towards my conclusion and the main point of it. This essay is not to make a case for Suddenism over Gradualism in an interpretation of Baba’s breaking his silence. It is quite possible that Gradualism may be the correct understanding of this momentous issue. My contention in this essay is that Gradualism is not the only viable point of view here. Baba’s dropping the body without apparently breaking his silence created a mystery. To present the Gradualist point of view as if there is no question about the whole matter is a denial that there is a challenging and deep mystery. In other words, Gradualism by itself, with no mention of any other possibility, hides what should be appreciated as a mystery. And furthermore, in only presenting the eternal nature of God’s silence as if it is the whole story, it may put up an obscuring curtain over the possibility of what is to come, in which we are to “be ready to receive it.”