Symbols of the world's religions

               

SATARA AND THE MACHINE AGE

Charmian Knowles

 
If someone had told me that the horrifying events of Prague, Oklahoma, would be repeated someday, I would have been incredulous. Yet now, four years later, we received word from India that Baba had been in another terrible car accident, with even more dire consequences. This time, Dr. Nilu was killed, and Baba and his other companions in the car were severely injured.

The accident occurred on December 2 during a return ride from Pune, where Baba had spent the day watching a cricket match and visiting his family home. The trip had been unusual in many ways. Baba was fasting that day and had requested that the mandali do the same. On the way to Pune, he had changed places in the car with Nilu, moving from the front to the back seat. Just as they arrived in Pune, the car was forced to stop for a motorcade. A motorcycle escort approached, followed by a car that carried China's premier, Chou En-lai, and India's prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Dr. Nilu insisted on getting out of the car to watch the motorcade.

Chou and Nehru were both powerful and charismatic men, leaders of the two most populous countries in the world. Nehru was the first leader of independent India. Chou was the first and longest-serving leader of the People's Republic of China. Nehru was leader of the world's largest democracy. Chou was leader of the largest communist nation. And they shared a border.

At the time, there were increasing tensions between the two nations and disputes over territory in Tibet, the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, and Kashmir. They had signed treaties in which each conceded certain rights, followed by accusations from each that the treaties had been violated. Full-scale guerrilla warfare had broken out months before in Tibet. Refugees streamed from eastern and northeastern Tibet into Lhasa and later into India, further provoking tensions between the two nations. That year Nehru unintentionally offended the Chinese by inviting the Dalai Lama to visit India to attend a Buddhist celebration. In meetings with both Nehru and Chou, the Dalai Lama admitted he was contemplating political asylum in India, a move the Chinese government would find humiliating.

Both leaders were clever players in the era of superpowers. Chou was the Chinese Communist party's most skillful negotiator and one of the great diplomats of the twentieth century. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called him "one of the two or three most impressive men I've ever met." As premier, he ran the government from 1949 until his death in 1976 and held primary responsibility for foreign relations. Educated partially in Western missionary schools and in Europe, he was brilliant, pragmatic, and moderate. The Chinese people loved him for his personal humility and simple lifetyle. World leaders admired him for his reputation as a peacemaker both at home and abroad.

Nehru, who had been mentored by Mahatma Gandhi, had also been educated in the West. He was international in his outlook, loyal, introspective, and sometimes impetuous, more radical than Gandhi but equally idealistic. A practitioner of conflict avoidance, he sought a policy of non-alignment for India, in which his country sided with neither the communists nor the West. Like Chou, he was much loved by his people. His fondness for children was so admired that India named an annual children's day in his honor.

Both men were striving to bring their nations into the modern age, building industry and developing technology while also struggling to feed and educate masses of the poor and illiterate.

When Baba and his party left Pune late in the afternoon, Baba was in the back seat of the car. Later he had the car stopped so he could again switch places with Nilu, who was in the front seat. A few miles later, they reached a grassy spot where Baba had once played a game of cricket with some of his close disciples. The players described that game as especially intense and said their muscles had ached for some time after. Baba recalled that day as the car passed by.

Eruch, though driving at a moderate speed, suddenly found he could no longer control the steering wheel. The car swerved toward a stone culvert and crashed. Baba was crushed in the car. His head and face were badly hurt, his tongue was torn, and his right hip socket was fractured. Eruch, Pendu, and Nilu were all thrown out of the car. Dr. Nilu and Pendu were both unconscious. Pendu suffered a broken pelvis and a head injury, Eruch had fractured ribs, and Vishnu suffered a broken rib and facial lacerations. Dr. Nilu, who had always expressed a wish to die quickly and in Baba's presence, never regained consciousness.

Vishnu, who was the least injured, found Baba reclining in the front seat, his clothes and face covered in blood. But far from seeming distressed, Baba was glowing. Vishnu said the radiance was so blinding he could see nothing else, not the car or the surroundings — only Baba's face "in glorious triumph," like a victorious king. During the medical treatments that followed, Baba was cheerful and downplayed his pain, saying the Hungarians were suffering much more in their struggle against the Soviets, many of them lying wounded and helpless by the road, far from family and loved ones. He said this accident, like his first, had been a blessing for the universe. Later he was even more forthcoming. He told Eruch he had his physical bones broken to break the material aspect of the "Machine" (Machine Age) while keeping its spiritual aspect intact.

If there is one machine that represents the rhythm and force of the Machine Age, it must surely be the automobile. No other invention has had such a dramatic impact on society and the earthly environment in which we struggle to live, learn, and attain beauty and freedom.

My relationship with cars has been special. Baba often gave me the wonderful privilege of driving or chauffeuring assignments, and sometimes the cars and roads seemed to happily participate in his plan to "throw friction" into our paths. I don't pretend to understand automobiles or their relationship with the Avatar and spiritual energy, but in the metal-intensive life of the Kali Yuga, they seem to play a significant role.

During the last century, cars have multiplied at a staggering rate. There were about four thousand when the twentieth century began, and today there are approximately six hundred million worldwide. As they proliferated, they redefined life on the planet. Our landscape is different now, covered in concrete and asphalt, crisscrossed by millions of miles of highways, many of them congested almost beyond endurance. Because of cars, parking lots and garages have replaced fields and gardens. The automobile has created a new rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood, more perilous and confusing than traditional ones. And while other technologies have lengthened our life span considerably, the automobile has been responsible for millions of deaths and millions more injuries. From the beginning, cars have been a measure of one's status, an indicator of wealth, taste, and even sexual allure. Because of its reliance on oil, the automobile has even profoundly affected international relations and politics, often forcing confrontation or conciliation between the Middle East and West.

Experts say the car, more than any other factor, is responsible for the urban sprawl that now shapes the American terrain and increasingly shapes that of all Western nations. Once cars became available, people no longer needed to live close to work or family; our sense of "neighborhood" and community changed.

The beautiful Creation I gazed upon with Baba from Meher Mount, Swiss mountains, the woods of South Carolina, and the forests of Northern California has also been invisibly scarred by the automobile. Its pollutants threaten all living things, poison our life-sustaining air, and play a key role in acid rain and the climate changes induced by global warming trends. Baba predicted such climate changes many years ago.

Still, the world's in love with the automobile, and understandably. Racing along at the speed a cheetah dashes through the savanna, we can cross an entire continent in only a few days. We can discover and explore neighborhoods, cities, countries, and cultures that would have been as remote to our ancestors as the North Pole. The automobile has provided a freedom of movement unequaled in human history.

Like the airplane, the automobile became an essential means of transportation and travel for the seventh Avatar in this cycle of Avatars. And in this Age of Iron, the uncompromising and hypnotic reign of the machine, it was also the means of his physical suffering — not once, but twice.

 

SPREAD MY LOVE, pp. 148-151
2004 © Sufism Reoriented

               

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