The Empty Bed, by Kenneth Lux
The Empty Bed: An Account of the Meher Spiritual Center
Kenneth Lux, Myrtle Beach
What does it mean to take darshan of an empty room and an empty bed in this phase of Meher Baba’s advent when he is no longer in the body? Ken Lux — author of Meher Baba: Avatar of the Tortoise and The Mystery of the Manifestation— contemplates the mystery of Baba’s presence at His Home in the West.
The title of this article is inspired by the title of Barbara Scott’s marvelous book about the 1969 Darshan, The Empty Chair.
The Center has many special and wonderful places, and the whole Center itself of 500 acres can be seen as a wonder. But in this article I would like to concentrate on just three places: the view of Long Lake as it appears from the Boat House and the footbridge, which is below the Original and Lakeview Kitchen; The Lagoon Cabin, which is the small cabin above the footbridge, where Baba held interviews with individuals or small groups; and ultimately, Baba’s own bed in His house, which we refer to as “Baba’s House,” and which is called “Meher Abode” on the pathway signs.
This of course leaves out other important and significant places, such as the Barn where Baba held large group meetings when He was at the Center, before the Meeting Place was built; the library and reading room; the lovely gazebos and trails; and each of the 18 or so cabins where guests can stay for overnights. But I am singling out just the three places mentioned here, for I feel that between these three, as a kind of triangulation, we may be able to capture something of the essence of what the Center is, and particularly what it means to take “Darshan” of Baba when He is no longer present in the body.
I would like to start with the Long Lake and Boat House scene. This is a beautiful lake view panorama which, because of the nature of what a lake is, and particularly this lake, also conveys a definite and almost tangible sense of peace. Both of these qualities together give it its special nature. Now, as beautiful as this scene is, there are certainly other places, in America and in the world, which can be said to be more beautiful. There are the national parks, such as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon with their vistas of mountains, and even my previous home state of Maine has its mountains running down to the ocean in its “rockbound” coast. So it’s not just the beauty of the lake view place that gives it its special quality but, as I said, its beauty and peace together. We’ll return to that.
Now I’d like to turn to the place of the empty bed in Baba’s House, which is the main focus of this account. In doing this I am skipping over the Lagoon Cabin for the moment, because I think that this can be best understood in the context of Baba’s bed in His house. First of all, the empty bed is in essence the same kind of object as empty chairs wherever we may find them in Baba locations, as well as His bed in His room at Meherazad. Some readers may be somewhat disturbed that I am using the word “empty” in describing all of these, rather than just the bed or the chair, because they feel that Baba is present in these places. But one of the purposes of this account is to try to understand the meaning of emptiness as well as presence, and with Barbara Scott’s account leading the way, I can take that opening to do this.
Of all the places that make up the Meher Spiritual Center, I see Baba’s bedroom and His bed as the “center” of the Center. The reason is that it gathers the most intense attention compared with anywhere else. It is open two hours at a time, four days a week. While in there, people may look around at the various rooms in Baba’s House: the living room, the “Treasure Room” (displaying mementos and “relics” of Baba from the Center archive, such as his pink jacket and locks of hair), and the two bedrooms where the men Mandali stayed when they accompanied Baba; and they may even spend a little time in some kind of concentration or meditation in the more private of these rooms.
However, it is in Baba’s bedroom where the intense concentration or meditation occurs. People can be seen sitting on the floor around Baba’s bed or on chairs, or laying their heads on the bed and keeping their heads there for a somewhat extended period of time, so that the bed is often encircled with people’s heads on it. On busy days at the Center, such as on Sunday, Baba’s bedroom is usually crowded with people in these various positions. So if we use the word meditation, it is Baba’s bed that draws the most intense and extended meditation of any place on the Center. (I will get back to that word meditation shortly).
Why is this so? It is possible that by even asking this question I am offending some Baba lovers, who see the whole matter as very obvious, needing no explanation or analysis, and who feel that to do so merely “picks it apart.” But what I am trying to do is to develop understanding of the bed and the Center, and in that understanding is not devaluation but its opposite—affirmation—as I hope will become clear.
So why is the bed the center of the Center? I will offer two reasons. One is that a bed and the room in which it is, is the most intimate place in any home. The second relates to this first reason, in that at the Center, as in most places and homes, the bed and bedroom are singular. There are numerous chairs at the Center in which Baba has sat, and they are designated by a braided cord across them, but there is only one bed. So the bed is clearly a special place, above and beyond other “Darshan” sites (such as chairs).
And now to this matter of “meditation.” In its original mission statement, the Center was described as a place for “rest, meditation, and renewal of the spiritual life.” But after intense deliberation of this by the Board, they have taken the bold and I think courageous step of dropping the word meditation from the statement and replacing it with the word contemplation, so that the statement will read in the future, “rest, contemplation, and renewal of the spiritual life.” A problem with the word meditation is that it gave the wrong impression, as it did not accurately describe what happens at the Center. New guests would come to the Center and they would often ask, “When is the meditation?” Well, in that sense there wasn’t any.
 The phrase still includes “meditation” on two pages of the Center website as of March 2013, probably because they are quoting Elizabeth Patterson’s original amplification of the charter and present plan for the Center, which was approved by Baba. —Ed.
An amusing incident occurred in regard to this at the meeting place. After the Friday and Saturday evening programs held there, some of Baba’s words are usually read and then there is a brief period of silence, the end of which is signaled by a “Jai Baba!” At one time two new people came to the Center, and they had been involved back home in a strong spiritual and meditation program. So now at the Center they were waiting to find out when (and where) the meditation is. So at one of their first evening meetings they heard that now there was going to be a period of silence (they may have missed the term “moment” of silence), and they said to themselves, “Ah, so here it is,” and they settled into themselves for a nice long meditation. Hardly had they done this, when they heard “Jai Baba!” and that was the end of it.
I am recounting all of the above and the dropping of the word meditation from the mission statement, being well aware that Baba gave many discourses on meditation, in fact more than on any other topic in His book Discourses. I have written an account of this issue in an essay titled, “Meditation Reoriented,” but that is another story for another time.
So when I describe people meditating around or on Baba’s bed, I am using that word because it is the term we are used to, but I think the term contemplation is much more accurate, and descriptive of the inner attention that we engage in in regard to Baba. It is not a formal meditation in any sense of the word, and each one does this contemplation in their own way, whether it involves active thinking about Baba and spirituality, or their own life in that context, or only just repeating Baba’s name, et cetera.
Speaking about formality, this contemplation—as well as inner act of love—that goes on in Baba’s bedroom was not in any way formally set up to be that way. This is very interesting. What happens around Baba’s bed in His bedroom has developed naturally, and we might say spontaneously. It was not designated by the Center that this is what you do in Baba’s room. The room and the bed have just seemed to draw this out from people visiting there. When tours are given to first-time visitors to Baba’s House, they are led through each of the rooms and an explanation is given of what the rooms are, and of the various items from Baba’s life that are displayed there, and sometimes the tour guide may say that this house is not supposed to be a museum, but a home, His home. After this is done, the tour concludes with taking them to Baba’s room, generally without any explanation at all, and they are left there to be on their own. The atmosphere in that room does the rest.
 I prefer to use “inner act of love” rather than the more common and (in our culture ) more understandable term “devotion.” I am always aware of Baba’s statement: “Love burns the lover. Devotion burns the Beloved.” —KL
Now, this word atmosphere is of course a metaphor, and it’s one we often use in regard to the Center and, of course, His room. But we should be more concrete about it. When these new visitors, or anyone, goes into Baba’s room, what they see is other people there in various acts and postures of contemplation and inner acts of love. So we might say that the reason people coming into Baba’s room adopt these same stances and attitudes is that they have seen others do it. It may have been spontaneous at one time, but it’s no longer a matter of just “atmosphere,” but of imitating what other people are doing. But this explanation is not sufficient. Despite the outer positions of people sitting around the bed or laying their head or hands on it, what is going on inside themselves, in their contemplation, is not visible. So it is this that is the critical thing, which cannot be imitated because it can’t be seen. So the ultimate significance of people going into Baba’s bedroom is the contemplation it induces, and that is private.
In order to appreciate the significance and power of this phenomenon of the contemplation in Baba’s room, let’s think of someone coming in for the first time on a tour, and they are very new to Baba and know very little about him, which is increasingly the case. They view this scene, and they are not sure what it means that people are there in rapt inner attention, but it’s something that they may think about because it is obviously so central to the Baba center, and thus to Baba himself. And here is the subtle, critical point. In their very thinking about this, wondering what it means that people are directing their attention inward in that way, that is their own very beginning of that same contemplation. As this continues with them, the newcomers, if it does continue, then we would expect that soon enough they too would be absorbed in that contemplation in Baba’s room. And that contemplation is part of beginning to love Baba. This is a natural form, induced by the Center and Baba’s bed, of what Eruch used to say: “If you can’t love Baba, or feel you can’t, then at least try to love Baba.” So anything directed inward, even ordinary thinking, is the beginning of loving He who is within.
Now to the matter of emptiness—empty chair, empty bed. As you may know, the concept of emptiness is a major part of Buddhism. There is a book by a professor of the history of religions and Buddhism at Boston University, Malcolm David Eckel, titled To See the Buddha, and the subtitle is A Philosopher’s Quest for the Meaning of Emptiness. This, as you might expect, is a deep and extensive study of the concept. But Baba has said something, more than once, that makes it relatively simple and clear: “I am not this body. It is a cloak I put on to make myself visible to you. Try to see me as I really am.” Of course, trying to see Him as he really is, is not so simple. But to help us understand this, there is the remarkable experience that the Mandali and disciples had after Baba dropped His body, that is, dropped that cloak. They surprisingly experienced that Baba was more accessible than when He was in the body.
One thing that this would mean is that in some way Baba’s body hid His essential reality. This, despite the fact that His radiance or light and beauty shone through His body, so that His body appeared to be a portal for these divine qualities. But evidently, His body, and any physical object, despite the portal, is ultimately a barrier to experiencing those qualities, which are the essential nature of bare reality (or existence itself). Baba has also told us this many times. Again, “I am not this body.”
Now, when the Baba lovers who had known Baba in the body said that he was more accessible after His body was gone—in other words, after it had left that empty space, or spaces—they were not necessarily referring to those divine qualities that I just mentioned: radiance and beauty. What they were referring to was the availability or finding now of intuition, which is the contact of Baba within. The radiance and beauty may follow that. So emptiness, then, the absence of the physical body of the God-Man, allows the disciples to find Him within themselves. And this is what seems to be happening when the visitors to Baba’s bedroom intensively focus within.
Let me now turn to the other two members of the Center “triangle,” the Lagoon Cabin and the lake view, the scene of the lake around the Boat House or footbridge. I see the Lagoon Cabin as a mini Baba’s bedroom. It has the chair in the room where Baba met individuals or small groups. But the cabin, being small, can accommodate fewer people than the bedroom, and the chair is less intimate than the bed. But it nevertheless has certain advantages. Baba’s House is only open four days a week, and two hours at a time on each of those four days. The Lagoon Cabin is open all the time. Secondly, it is located right in the main circle of the Center, while Meher Abode is located past all the cabins and is about a ten-minute walk from the main circle. And, on the intimacy note, the Lagoon Cabin’s being small may even be felt as more intimate by some than being amongst the larger number of people that gather in Baba’s bedroom.
And finally, I return again to the lake view, and its beauty and peace. These are the abstract or non-embodied qualities of God, and by being in the midst of nature, they are by definition the “natural” qualities of God. It is universal that people feel the beauty of nature, but in a materialistic age they don’t necessarily see these as divine, or expressions of God’s reality. But with this scene being at the Center, it fairly obviously seems connected with Baba, if not with His divinity (for newcomers or skeptics). When people hear the story of how Elizabeth and Norina found the Center, it also seems fairly obvious that this scene was part of what Baba wanted. While I am focusing on the lake view as an example of the beauty of nature, I should also say that all of the 500 acres of the Center—its woods, flowers, and trails—express this beauty, and there is also an almost tangible air of peace that exists along with this. And again, being at His Center, it’s hard to disconnect this from Baba Himself. So what the beauty of the Center shows is that nature itself, wherever we locate it in all its variety, awesomeness, peace, and beauty, is an expression of divinity. And this is a powerful message to an age which not only denigrates and destroys nature, but in so doing sees it as having little or nothing to do with God.
With this we can see that in a marvelously paradoxical way, the empty bed restores divinity to the modern world and fills the vacuum created by its neglect of God. It is like a frameless frame in which the pathway to His infinitely loving heart can be revealed. And often, when I open the gate to go into the Center, I feel—in an echo of a Zen phrase suggesting that emptiness is the entryway to truth—that I am opening the “gateless gate.” When you finally go through “The Gate,” you find out that there never was any barrier at all.