Symbols of the world's religions



Bili Eaton

Then came the day of Baba's arti. Here, I must explain two things in order to make the following intelligible.

First, on the way to India, I had been complaining to my travelling companion about how much I disapproved of rites, rituals and ceremonies which, I thought, stood between God and man, and also how I couldn't understand the relatively recent penchant some Baba followers had for giving out prasad. I had received prasad only from Baba and saw no reason to make any change — either in giving or receiving it — and so on, and so on.

Second, as many couples have done and probably still do, I and a great love in my life (long before Baba) had a song which we called "ours." It was "Begin the Beguine." This was always associated with my love of that time. However, when I met Baba, I began to associate the song with Him since He liked the song and, in my mind, it became "our" — Baba's and my — song.

My experience of Baba's arti when in India in 1962 was that a tray of flaming camphor was waved in front of Him while the arti was sung. I expected the same ceremony would occur again in 1979. On the day the arti was to be performed, as Mehera and the women mandali entered the tomb, I thought they would perform the arti as I remembered it and that would be that. I was standing just outside the door of the tomb prepared to watch when one of the women mandali motioned me to come inside. So, I went inside carrying my big, black, heavy shoulder bag stuffed with passport, travelers checks, money, etc. In a few moments, Mehera motioned to me to step up on the opposite side of the tomb from her.

This was totally unexpected and, from here on, it was a typical Baba-inspired-Groucho Marx situation. And I believe Baba was having fun with me despite the seriousness of the occasion. Not expecting to participate in the ceremony, I had no idea of what I was to do. But I soon learned that I was to help Mehera lay the blanket of flowers over the tomb. I was looking frantically for a safe place to put my heavy bag so it would be out of everyone's way when, suddenly, one of the women mandali grabbed it and flung it into the corner, traveler's checks, passport and all.

I got through the laying of the blanket, feeling all thumbs. Then, Mehera motioned to me to lay a wreath over Baba's picture. It took me quite a while to interpret what she wanted, and I knew I was being clumsy and inept. But that was not all; I was to go over to Mehera's side of the tomb and spray perfume over the flowers. Never have I felt so incapable and stupid. Baba was really having His fun with me.

Finally, Mani signaled me to stand in my original spot just inside the tomb. So, I collected my big bag from the corner, thinking my part in the ceremony was over and took my place. Then, each of the women mandali began to take turns in bowing down to Baba, touching her head to the floor and offering a flower. After all had finished, Mani indicated that it was my turn to bow down also. Once again, someone grabbed my bag and flung it into a corner.

However, as I was about to advance and bow down there came a moment that is typical of Baba-timing. If the following event had not occurred at the exact time that it did, I would not have recognized Baba's loving denouement to His mischievous playing with me. Quite unexpectedly, a little boy of about six or seven streaked into the tomb and bowed his head to the floor, offering a flower. When he retired, Mani again indicated that I should take my turn. But, immediately, another little boy ran in and repeated the first boy's performance. Finally, my turn really came and just as my forehead touched the floor — at the precise moment — the first strains of "Begin the Beguine" sounded from the guitars (which up until then had been silent) outside the tomb.

After I left the tomb, I was immediately handed a box of prasad and asked to hand it out. Whoever gave it to me disappeared on the spot, and I had no chance to protest. What could I do? Baba always admonished us not to make other people feel bad if we could help it, so I couldn't make a fuss by trying to get someone else to hand out the prasad. So, here I was in the unenviable position of handing out prasad (which I had sworn I would never do), but, what was worse, I was also to hand it out to the mandali which I felt was rather presumptuous on my part. But I had no choice, and there was my travelling companion, to whom I had complained so bitterly about the handing out of prasad, watching me.

In the back of my mind I had hoped the mandali would not accept it and justify my feelings about giving out prasad, but they did....

And as a result, I was made a little more pliant and tolerant.


A LOVE SO AMAZING, pp. 68-70
1984 © Meghan Blakemore Eaton


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