Meher Baba lived and traveled in company with a circle of close disciples whom he termed his “mandali” (Sanskrit for ‘circle’), both men and women from whom he demanded absolute obedience. He and his mandali voluntarily assumed a life of extreme simplicity. From 1925 to the end of his life, Meher Baba remained silent, communicating by means of an alphabet board or by gesture. Meher Baba spent long periods in seclusion, often fasting, but he would intersperse these periods with wide-ranging travels, public gatherings, and works of charity, including working with lepers, the poor, and the mad. He gave many discourses, which have been collected by his followers.
Why did Meher Baba maintain silence? He wrote:
Man’s inability to live God’s words makes the Avatar’s teaching a mockery. Instead of practicing the compassion he taught, man has waged wars in his name. Instead of living the humility, purity, and truth of his words, man has given way to hatred, greed, and violence. Because man has been deaf to the principles and precepts laid down by God in the past, in this present Avataric form, I observe silence.
Which brings me to the book and movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly:
On December 8, 1995, Elle magazine editor-in-chief Bauby suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma. He awoke 20 days later, mentally aware of his surroundings but physically paralyzed with the exception of some movement in his head and left eye. The entire book [The Diving Bell And The Butterfly] was written by Bauby blinking his left eyelid, in July and August of 1996. A transcriber repeatedly recited a French language frequency-ordered alphabet (E S A R I N T U L etc.), until Bauby blinked to choose the next letter. The book took about 200,000 blinks to write and each word took approximately two minutes. The book also chronicles everyday events and what they are like for a person with locked-in syndrome. These events include playing at the beach with his family, getting a bath, and meeting visitors. The French edition of the book was published in March, 1997. It received excellent reviews and sold 150,000 copies in the first week and went on to become a number one bestseller across Europe. Ten days after the book was published, Bauby died of pneumonia
A New York Times review of Bauby’s book tells us:
Shortly before the stroke, Bauby had begun to diet, not knowing he would lose 66 pounds in the next 20 weeks, and he had reread ”The Count of Monte Cristo,” in which the elderly Noirtier de Villefort ”is literature’s first — and so far only — case of locked-in syndrome.” From his bed, Bauby ponders the way he’s swapped circumstances with an old friend who spent ”several years in a darkened Beirut dungeon” as a hostage of Hezbollah.
And then there’s the first stanza of this old Edgar Lee Masters (1869-1950) poem:
I have known the silence of the stars and of the sea,
And the silence of the city when it pauses,
And the silence of a man and a maid,
And the silence of the sick
When their eyes roam about the room.
And I ask: For the depths,
Of what use is language?
A beast of the field moans a few times
When death takes its young.
And we are voiceless in the presence of realities —
We cannot speak.
For the depths,/Of what use is language?
And then there’s this:
In ancient times itinerant Zen monks when arriving at a Zen monastery could challenge the monks to a theological contest and would be given food and shelter if they won but would have to go to the next monastery if they lost. There was a monastery occupied by two brothers, a wise monk with two eyes and a foolish monk with one eye. One night it was raininghard and an itinerant monk knocked on the door. The wise brother wishing to be kind to the traveling monk suggested he have a contest with his brother.
Five minutes later the contest was over. The traveling monk entered the room, bowed and admitted defeat. The wise brother asked, “Tell me what happened?” The other replied, “Your brother is a genius. We decided to debate in silence. I went first and showed a single finger signifying the Buddha. Your brother showed two fingers, meaning the Buddha and his teachings. I replied with three fingers, indicating the Buddha, his teachings and his followers. Your brother replied with coupe de grace when he showed me his fist proving that in reality the Buddha, his teachings and his followers are all one.” The poor monk bowed once more and left in the stormy night.
Just then the one eyed brother entered. He was completely angry. “That monk was so rude. If he were not our guest, I would have given him the beating he deserved.” “What happened?” The one-eyed brother responded, “We decided to have a silent debate and the first thing he indicated was to put a single finger up meaning, ‘I see you have only one eye’. So I put up two fingers out of courtesy to him, meaning, ‘I see you have two eyes.’ But the guy was incredibly rude. He put up three fingers telling me that together the two of us have three eyes. I got so mad, I shook my fist at him, telling him, ‘If you don’t stop talking about eyes, I’m going to punch your lights out.'”
May all be happy.
May all be well.
May all be safe.
May all be in peace.