Northern Michigan Meher Baba Discussions

A discussion of Meher Baba issues, basically for the interested seeker. Not intended as an apologia or a format for debate.


A brief aside...

It appears that the majority of "page viewers" of this blog are from the Ukraine, with the US in second and Russia in third place. Very sensible of you Ukranians...


Understanding Death from a Spiritual Perspective, by Pascal Kaplan

In discussing a post-modern, Meher Baba-influenced psychology, there could hardly be a more inflammatory place to start than with this book published by Sufism Reoriented, Walnut creek, California. The book's premise is captured in the divisions: (1) The Itinerary of the Soul from Death to Rebirth, (2) The Spiritual Significance, and (3) Answers to frequent Questions on death and Dying.

The author earned Master's and Ph. D. degrees in Theoloogy from Harvard, and while dean of the School of General Studies at John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California, was instrumental in offering degree programs in Consciousness Studies, Holistic Health Education and Transpersonal Psychology there.

As my wife cogently asked when I relayed a fascinating passage, "How can anyone know these things?" The question is pivotally important if we want to posit that discussions about the "psychology of death and rebirth" constitute a legitimate topic of discourse in psychology.

More or less since it's inception as an organized discipline (a development I would date to the development of Wilhelm Wundt's laboratory in Leipzig in 1879) psychology has preoccupied itself with the question of "How can anyone know anything about the psyche?" Behavioristic, experimental psychology grew influentially more or less coincidentally with the development of logical positivism, and it's emphasis on verifiable empirical claims. Karl Popper's work sharpened this distinction by requiring that scientific theories possess the capacity of being capable of empirical falsification. In other words, (IMHO of KP) if there is no set of potential data that would permit a theory to be falsified, it might not be considered to be a scientific theory.

Almost universally these days, psychology strives to establish itself as a scientific theory or set of scientific theories. This constraint impels psychology to disregard as "pseudo-scientific" vast and comprehensive theories such as Freudian psychoanalysis in it's various iterations. The constraints, however, have not inhibited the publication of vast troves of experimental and quasi-experimental studies leading to literature reviews, meta-analytic studies, and theoretical surveys.

The development of modern psychology has sadly left outside the fold the works of many thoughtful delvers into the human psyche. William James delivered "The Principles of Psychology" in an era when "science" was a more open concept, and psychology still had room for the paranormal. This was the cornerstone publication of American psychology in its day, until John Watson and the behaviorist movement made it seem terribly romantic.

In this book, Kaplan proceeds from an older view: that truth need not be proved, nor be subject to the Popper test. It needs to be pertinent, internally consistent, and come from a reliable source. He has adopted Avatar Meher Baba as his primary source, accepting him as one who knows. He goes on to cite more than twenty other authors in the "Selected Bibliography," each of whom brings unique perspectives.

The descriptions include the process by which the astral body dissociates from the physical body, a discussion of the relationship that exists between the disembodied soul and the physical world after death, effects of suicide and other unusual circumstances of death, "the reflective phase in which life is reviewed and lessons are taken in," the "heaven and hell" states, and the process or rebirth. There are some provocative ideas about how the afterlife may take different forms for Christians, Hindus, and atheists. Kaplan discusses spiritual effects of these stages, and then explores related topics with Murshida Ivy Duce. Among these fascinating snippets are a conversation about the advisability of looking into past lives and the value of the suffering the sometimes precedes death. The nature and workings of Karma provide a backdrop to all.

Books like this may be thought of as religious treatises, especially since they offer few testable hypotheses, but Kaplan's efforts, in the studied lack of a secular focus, seem to me to be pioneering forays into a kind of religious or spiritual psychology. This book may have a specific application to receptive readers in helping them grapple with the terror of the unknown, as they confront the idea of death.

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Why ponder a Meher Baba influenced psychology?

Certainly from the point of view of the goal of life, to love God more and more, one might want to forget about worldy pursuits such as psychology. (No less a personage than Bhau Khalchuri often zings "social work," in which he certainly includes the work of psychologists.) The idea here would be to curl up with God Speaks, Baba's discourses, and maybe a Baba portrait, in front of which one could do a japa meditation (works for me!). (Of course Bhau who is a great Lover of God, would not recommend such a meditation-centered way.) The following quote from Lord Meher might, by implication, raise some questions about sequestering oneself from wordly thoughts and focusing purely on Baba-thoughts, at least for some people:

"One day, Baba asked Alain Youell what he wanted to do in life. Don had warned Alain this question would come up. Alain said he was interested in studying languages, so perhaps he would become an interpreter, or maybe an interior designer. When he said he was fascinated by people, Baba, through Eruch, said, 'Psychology. You would make a good psychologist. It will be very hard, but you will be a part of the new psychology. The present-day psychology does not work.' (Baba did not explain what he meant.)

"Alain Youell, half-joking, said, "Baba, I just want to be here with my begging bowl before you."

"Baba reacted angrily and pointed out, "You are in the West, and you have to do my work in the West. That is where you are to be." (LM P5675)

Many of us will be born to subsist in the West, and will need to do Baba's work in the West. Even those who are blessed to write Baba books, give talks about Baba, or run Baba centers still generally need a day job.

I personally work as a school administrator. Rick Chapman is an international marketing consultant. Don Stevens was a big-oil executive.

I hope that some day, all occupations can be strung together like beads on a string, at least to some extent. Certainly this stringing work will be largely done with love by those who, let's say, live the precepts of the New Life. Heart before mind.

At the same time, Meher Baba said that the revelations he made in this advent would have an influence on science (most psychologists embrace the view that psychology is one of the sciences). It would be sweet if one day one could go to work hand-in-hand with the Lord, and practice a profession that had been more or less aligned with His teaching.

One or two readers (I'm imagining readers, now, a dangerous delusion?) will take umbrage here, wondering whether I am hearkening back to the middle (dark) ages when the priest was the defacto ruler & intellectual. Certainly there are dangers in "priestcraft" as Baba called it. On the other hand, it may also be that the Western view that the Renaissance was an unmixed blessing may be a bit culturally egoistic. (See CS Lewis & GK Chesterton for views on that line.) Francis Brabazon was the most articulate spokesman for the view that in a golden age, God moves to the center of cultural life.

At any rate, psychology itself has drifted rather far from spiritual life, especially over the last half-century. This is a huge topic for a mini-blog like this, but insha'allah I can delve a bit, as this develops.


Meher Baba psychologists

As I have attended a number of Meher Baba gatherings since I "returned to the fold" in 2003, I've encountered quite a number of people in the helping professions, especially in psychology, but also in social work, psychiatric nursing, etc. Meher Baba, who was of course a perfect psychologist Himself, drew many in that field to him. The Discourses have been described as astute psychological writings. I originally came to Baba in response to a psychologist, Allan Cohen. Another notable psychologist was Dr. James Mackie, Murshid of Sufism Reoriented, and co-author of Gurus and Psychologists: Spiritual Versus Psychological Learning. Ken Lux, author of Avatar of the Tortoise is a notable psychologist. Another is Pascal Kaplan, author of Understanding death. Michael Da Costa has written on the relation of Meher Baba's explanation of the journey of the individual soul in relation to person-centered counseling. Richard Blum has written on the connection between Baba's teachings and the work of Freud and Jung.

It would be quite an honor to respond to some of these thinkers, if I could keep Baba foremost in my own thoughts. For me the key writer on psychological themes has to be the recently deceased Don Stevens.

Apart from visiting these areas, Baba's teaching relates very directly to many topics written by psychologists who never gave a thought (as far as I know) to the Avatar. Insha'allah, some of these can be visited as well. Jai Baba!

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