Scenes from a Honeymoon: Meher Baba in New York City, winter of ‘71 

(from GLOW International, Winter 2008-9)

On this trip through Chicago , taking the El north again and getting off at the Howard Street platform that was starting to seem like a second home, Malcolm received a treasured gift from Ellis: three sky-blue paperback volumes entitled DISCOURSES by Meher Baba. A volume at a time fit in the pocket of his old green army jacket, and as his nose drank in the gas fumes and the sound of bus engines at the Greyhound station in downtown Chicago, while he waited in line to climb up the steps for the ride back to New York City, he greedily dove in as a starving man would to a loaf of bread.

The fumes were not an irritant, but the smell of travel itself. For the next twelve hours, he rode and read, feeling grateful. Life did have a manual, and he had found it. As the engine of the bus hummed pleasantly, he journeyed through the descriptions of the seven planes that Meher Baba said constituted the underlying structure of human consciousness, latent in worldly human beings and gradually traversed during the process of Involution, the journey back to God. He read about the three worlds: the gross, subtle, and mental. He learned about the powers of the subtle planes and the precipice of the 4th plane, on which a pilgrim gained access to Infinite Power. If he misused that power, a cataclysmic fall resulted. However, if the pilgrim passed this test, he moved on to the Sainthood of the fifth and sixth planes, and finally, at some point, to union with God, the Goal of all life. Baba spoke of such union as “God-Realization”.

In “The Problem of Sex”, Malcolm read about the difference between lust and love. Marriage, Baba said, was the appropriate spiritual path for aspirants who still had a deep desire for sexual experience. Traversed properly, marriage gradually transmuted lust into pure love. However, promiscuity led the aspirant into spiritual chaos. Malcolm wondered whether the tug of entanglement he had started to feel with Nikki was because they were not legally married. It might just as well be because they were indeed, as they themselves said, “married in the eyes of God.”

In New York Malcolm phoned the sister of a high school friend who lived in the West Village to ask if he could sleep on her sofa for a night or two. He was surprised when she replied that she was about to leave town for two weeks and he was welcome to apartment-sit. Another Godsend from Baba. Furthermore, the apartment was only a few blocks from Meher Baba House on West Fourth Street, up on the fourth floor of an old office building—a place “in the world”, smack-dab in the middle of New York City, dedicated to Baba.

The next ten days were like a progressive Baba Feast. Malcolm had arrived just before Baba’s Birthday—it would have been His 77th. The Birthday had been a major occasion for celebration most years during Baba’s adult lifetime. The tradition of that grand, annual opportunity for His lovers to lavishly express their love was continuing. Baba House was all decked out with pink balloons. The party there took place a couple of days prior to the actual Birthday on February 25. On that day another of the Meher Baba groups in the city had booked a big banquet room and an auditorium at the upscale Barbizon Plaza Hotel for a gala celebration, and had invited everyone.

The Baba House party was a small, family affair, mostly attended by young Village bohemians. However, towever, Hhe only real qualification to belong to this Family was to be—in Pete Townsend’s recent Rolling Stone words—“in love with Meher Baba,” and a few oldsters and middle-aged people in business attire were also in attendance. There was cake, punch, song, and lots of the pink balloons that reminded Malcolm of the “pinkishness” he’d felt in Ellis’ office.

At one point, as everyone sat on the floor eating cake, a tall fellow spoke up, saying he’d recently driven all the way to Boston and back singing a simple tune that went:

Don’t worry, be happy, Meher Baba loves us all. Illusions are many,

But underneath them all,

There’s one Reality

That shines from you and me:

God is man and man is God,

God and man are one.

He led a sing-along version of the jingle for five minutes. The atmosphere reminded Malcolm a little of the Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist meeting in Hollywood—which also, he had to admit, had felt simple but genuine and maybe even a little “pink”. After the songs and refreshments, an urbane young English professor gave a talk about Baba’s Love and about the comedy of repeatedly tripping over oneself in one’s efforts to follow Him.

The big birthday party for Baba was a massive event, attended by, Malcolm estimated, at least five hundred people, probably more! It was by far the largest group Malcolm had seen under one roof in his brief time as a Baba-lover. At first the auditorium looked completely full. Malcolm finally found a vacant seat in a back row.

The performers included a group called “Baba’s Bad-Notes”, as well as dancers and musicians who were extremely accomplished. Then the master of ceremonies introduced Dr. Harry Kenmore, a blind man who had been Meher Baba’s personal chiropractor. In a deep bass voice Dr. Kenmore bellowed out the Master’s Prayer that Baba had composed as a vehicle for his followers’ remembrance of Him.

Doctor Kenmore’s voice expressed a boundless confidence, and Malcolm felt stunned by the experience of hearing it. Kenmore spoke as if no one else was present—and as if, although blind, he had some kind of Sight.

After the prayer, Doctor Kenmore sang a song called “Mandali Days” that told about his stays in India among Baba’s close disciples. Though the doctor could not really carry a tune, Malcolm felt the same amazement as during the Master’s Prayer, and looked up at the stage again in order to assure himself such a “seeing” voice could indeed be that of a blind man.

When the program ended, everyone filed out of the auditorium into a huge banquet room, its tables piled high with refreshments. A tall young woman wearing wire-rimmed glasses caught Malcolm’s eye. Sweetly and directly, she returned his gaze. Were Baba-lovers all this open? Were they all infinite reservoirs, direct lines to the Soul? It stood to reason that by virtue of their connection with Him, they might be!

He couldn’t take his eyes off of hers. She continued to take what they were doing in stride, returning his look calmly and lovingly without a word. Their eyes made a kind of tunnel. Well, eyes were the soul’s windows, weren’t they? He tried to send his entire being through her eyes into her, and take her in through his, thinking “Baba in you, Baba in me, Baba, Baba, Baba.” After awhile, they made their way out of the flow of people, over to a grand, gilded staircase that Malcolm leaned against as they continued silently staring at one another.

Finally, she beckoned to him with a finger and led him out into the street, along with two friends of hers who had just joined them. They entered the foyer of an office building with a long flight of steps leading upward.

“Where are we going?” Malcolm asked.

“Up to the Buddha meeting— ‘nam-yo-ho-renge-kyo’,” said his soul-friend, chanting in an exaggerated way.

“Hey, I know that group!” Malcolm smiled. “But Baba said you have to choose just one Master.” The DISCOURSES clearly made that point.

His friend smiled back. “Baba helped me find God, but God is in everything,” she said.

She was free, there was no stopping her. Malcolm realized he had to let his new friend go, already. Momentarily sad, he kissed her cheek. Then she was gone, disappearing up those stairs with her comrades, this girl he’d shared a soul-gaze with longer than anyone else in his whole life. After she left, he realized he hadn’t even learned her name.

Sometimes there were meetings in the evenings. One night he went and heard a rather glamorous, middle-aged New York lady talk about how she had pooh-poohed God, but how then her life had fallen to pieces and she’d embarked on a desperate search that led her to Baba. Another evening there was no formal activity, but Malcolm went to browse among the books and magazines that were not available elsewhere, and to enjoy the friendly atmosphere and see who might show up.

A tall, thin young man who seemed to be partially of Asian heritage sat at the desk just inside the door. He introduced himself as “Dust”. “Wow, how’d you get such a Baba name?” Malcolm asked, having only recently read an message of the Master’s imploring His lovers to become “dust at My Feet.”

“Oh, I used to be an actor. I got that nickname playing a role in a Beckett play,” the young man said. To Malcolm’s question how he’d come into Baba’s orbit, Dust replied, “I grew up in Switzerland and I was partly raised by Irene Billo.” Irene Billo had been a very close Swiss Baba disciple, whom Malcolm had also read about. “You said ‘used to be an actor’.What do you do now?” Malcolm asked this interesting character. “I’m a musician. I’m in a band.” “What’s it called?” Malcolm asked.

“It’s called ‘Life Itself’.”

“That’s a fantastic name!” Malcolm said. “It makes me smile. That’s just what music is, at best. Wow, I’m amazed you even got it into words?”

Malcolm walked into the deserted book room and picked up the current issue of THE AWAKENER, a magazine devoted to Baba. He began to read. After fifteen minutes, he heard the door to the suite open and close again. Looking into the next room he saw a thin, wizened man approach the desk where Dust sat.

“What place is this?” asked the man in what sounded to Malcolm like a Greek accent.

“This is Meher Baba House,” Dust replied. “It’s devoted to Avatar Meher Baba, a spiritual Master who lived in India from 1894 until 1969.”

“What is the purpose of life?” the old man asked point-blank.

“To know and become God,” Dust answered immediately. “Baba has a beautiful sentence that answers the question in a little different way: ‘To penetrate into the essence of all being and significance and to release the fragrance of that inner attainment for the guidance and benefit of others by expressing in the world of forms truth, love, purity and beauty is the sole game that has any absolute and intrinsic worth.’ And then He goes on to say, ‘All other happenings, incidents and attainments can in themselves have no lasting importance.”

“Where IS God?” the Greek man asked?

“Within you,” Dust said.

“Why can I not find him?” asked the man.

“It’s our ego. Baba said ‘I veil myself from man by his own curtain of ignorance’. The ego has to be weakened in order to find God, though any time He has the whim, God can also bestow His Grace on anyone in Creation.”

“What happens after death?” asked the man.

“If we remember God at our last breath, we can be liberated from the rounds of birth and death,” Dust replied. “But most people go into the astral realm, where they re-live the life just past. You see it more clearly and feel the consequences of your words and actions more intensely. That’s why these states are spoken of as Heaven and Hell. And when the whole record, so to speak, has been played, and the learning from the re-viewing is complete, the person takes a new birth.”

Malcolm could see the Greek man’s face, which had looked confused, starting to open up in astonishment.

“You’re a genius!” he shouted almost at the top of his voice.

“No!” Dust said adamantly. “It’s Baba!”

A little later the Greek man went back out into the night, satisfied with the revelation he’d received. Malcolm left soon after, stunned by the beauty of how Baba had done “double work”. He’d used the revelation to the Greek man, via Dust, as a second revelation to him about how to be a witness for the Truth.

Malcolm had heard of another Baba group in the city—the one, in fact, that had sponsored the big birthday party. One afternoon, feeling like he was on a delicious Treasure Hunt, he took the subway up to Broadway and 72nd Street to look for the offices of this divine needle in the haystack of New York ’s maya. Without much trouble, he found the address—a nondescript office building at #121 West 72—and glanced up at the marquee that listed the building’s tenants. His heart jumped to see Society for Avatar Meher Baba, 3rd floor and his step quickened as he entered the building.

The door of the suite had a frosted glass window. The name SOCIETY FOR AVATAR MEHER BABA was stenciled on it plainly in black. This was the headquarters of the group that Dr. Kenmore had founded.

Malcolm tried the handle and found the door open. He walked into a room dominated by a large photo portrait of Meher Baba. Several messages of Baba’s, as well as several smaller photos, were framed along the walls. GOD SPEAKS, Meher Baba’s book on “the Theme of Creation”, lay on a table. Malcolm again began to browse, happy that New York , the greatest city in the world, was dotted with such secret oases devoted to the Avatar of the Age..

A young man with a short haircut came through the doorway from a back room.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“My name is Malcolm.” “What are you doing here?”

“Well, I was just looking at Baba’s pictures.”

“Do you think you can just come in here off the street and look at Baba’s pictures?” the young man asked in a haughty tone.

“The door was open,” said Malcolm, but saying this, he again turned the handle and quickly exited. The person’s treatment felt like a bucket of cold water, and he tried to shake it off quickly. Well, just because Baba was perfect did not mean one could always expect perfection of His followers. Still, other than this experience, the followers of Meher Baba had been almost uniformly pleasant and considerate.

Malcolm returned to the Society one night, however, because Dr. Kenmore himself was speaking there. Perhaps fifty folding chairs had been set up in the back room of the Society’s office. Most of them were already taken, but Malcolm found one in a back row. A little later, he saw the blind man with his cane being led to a rostrum by a woman. Dr. Kenmore was said to have throat cancer, and up close he looked frail.

As Dr. Kenmore spoke, Malcolm felt himself again to be in the presence of some kind of greatness. Perhaps it was Baba’s greatness. Dr. Kenmore, peering straight ahead, told in his booming voice about how following Baba was a discipline and not something to be casual about. “You have to crack the books!” he shouted, proceeding to tell how he himself had “read everything I could get my hands on“ in the process of learning about Baba.

After ten days in the city, feeling full as though he’d been at a great banquet, Malcolm took the train back to Chicago , again traversed the Howard Street El platform to stop and visit Ellis briefly, and then returned to South Bend .