At Sixes and Sevens
At Sixes and Sevens: Choosing between the Two Editions of Meher Baba’s Discourses
by Tian Gunther
Posted 27 April 2012
Since questions were raised some years ago over the validity of the 7th revised edition of Meher Baba’s Discourses, edited and published in 1987 by Sheriar Foundation, various views have been expressed. Recently the issue again came up with the Discourses study group at Avatar’s Abode as to which edition to use. This has prompted me to share some personal experience from the point of view of a translator.
When I began translating Discourses into Chinese back in 1997, the 7th was the only edition in print. It was my first read, and naturally I cherished it and used it as my source text, not suspecting that significant changes had been made apart from the usual legitimate editorial concerns such as grammar and spelling. As a translator, one has to ponder over and try to grasp each concept before rendering it into the target language. And I encountered a number of problems unnoticed in ordinary reading and later found to be non-problems in the 6th edition. To give just a few of the many examples:
1. One of the first problems was the frequent appearance of “individual.” The term has a shift of emphasis, suggesting a contrast to “general” or “society,” even more so with its Chinese equivalent. I would have interpreted it as “man” or “person” but for professionalism. What a relief to discover a few years later it was indeed “man” in the 6th edition!
As explained by the editors in the “Foreword” to the 7th edition, adjustments are made to masculine terms for the benefit of readers “sensitive to current trends in English usage.” It turns out to be unnecessary because their meaning is self-evident in the context. Beyond this, the whole issue of gender neutral practice seems to me a compromise since the pronouns are not de-gendered consistently. To take one example among many, in this sentence from “The Avenue of Understanding”, the 7th edition changes “man” into “an individual” but leaves untouched the masculine pronouns, thus defeating its purpose:
The heart intuitively grasps the values that are progressively realized in the life of an individual as he goes through the diverse experiences of the world, and as his attention is centered on arriving at spiritual understanding. (7th ed., p. 95. Emphases mine here and elsewhere.)
2. Another problem has to do with the substitution by the 7th edition of the word “mental” for “psychic” in the earlier editions. The following example illustrates the change:
Psychic energy would be dissipated unless there arose a supremely imperative claim among the many conflicting claims of life. Exclusive concentration upon one Master is therefore usually indispensable for the gathering up of the dispersed psychic energy of the disciple. (6th ed., vol. 2, pp. 54-55.)*
Mental energy would be dissipated unless there arose a supremely imperative claim among the many conflicting claims of life. Exclusive concentration upon one Master is therefore usually indispensable for the gathering up of the dispersed mental energy of the disciple. (7th ed., p. 158.)
From the context, one gathers that it requires one’s whole being, heart and soul, rather than mental energy alone to focus on following the Master; and the ideal Chinese word for “psychic energy” in this sense is “jingli”— vital energy involving the physical, the intellectual and the emotional, which accurately translates the meaning of the 6th edition. Although the editors of the 7th edition may have felt uneasy about the modern nuance of “psychic” as in the phrase “psychic phenomenon,” its usage in the Discourses is always made perfectly clear by its context. To change it to the much more restrictive “mental” leads to far too much imprecision. In another example:
Thus mental energy would be caught up endlessly in the multitudinous mazes of dual experience and would all be wasted and dissipated if there were no provisional nucleus. (7th ed., p. 161.)
Again the word “psychic” better expresses the fact that the energy being squandered belongs to the mind-heart complex as a whole and not to the intellect alone.
3. The 7th edition also changes syntax which obscures the point Baba is making such as in this sentence from the discourse on perfection:
Human beings are unhappy, and they laugh to make themselves and others happy, but even a Perfect Man who is eternally happy is not without a sense of humour. (6th ed., vol. 1, p. 119.)
When human beings are unhappy, they laugh to make themselves and others happy. But even a Perfect One, who is eternally happy, is not without a sense of humour. (7th ed., p. 81.)
The change leaves out a rare psychological insight — human beings laugh because they are unhappy; which leads to a major point—even the eternally happy Perfect Man has a sense of humour: one of the most appealing and endearing aspects of our own Beloved. For some reason it is replaced by a statement which makes no sense.
4. In the 7th edition, terms like “Master” and “saints and masters” are standardized, so to speak, to “Perfect Master”. While in most cases the result is an unhappy twist in the natural rhythm of expression, in this sentence from the discourse on occultism, the replacement of “saints and masters” by “Perfect Master” distorts the meaning:
For an aspirant to see saints and masters does not yield its full significance except in the context of all the corresponding happiness of the inner planes. (6th ed., vol.2, p. 95.)
For an aspirant to see a Perfect Master does not yield its full significance except in the context of all the corresponding happenings of the inner planes of consciousness. (7th ed., p. 187.)
The change is misleading, for it is saints and masters stationed on the higher planes who experience “the corresponding happiness of the inner planes,” while Perfect Masters are established in the God-state and have infinite bliss, power and knowledge. Personally, the realization that originally Baba said “saints and masters” has to some extent helped me to be tolerant of others’ way of spiritual pursuits, and to not judge people who visit and follow teachers and masters not altogether perfect.
5. And in the following quote on meditation, the change made in the 7th edition decisively alters the explicit meaning:
The mind may be made steady on the image of sky, ocean or vast emptiness. . . . Out of these symbols of infinity, complete and unlimited emptiness is difficult to imagine, but it turns out to be the best symbol if one can successfully bring it before one’s mind. (6th ed., vol.2, p. 166.)
The mind may be made steady on an image of sky, ocean, or vast emptiness. . . . From these symbols of infinity, complete and unlimited emptiness is difficult to imagine; however, the best symbol is that which one can most successfully bring before one’s mind. (7thed., p. 235.)
This edit departs from stating a spiritual fact—the image of vast emptiness as the best symbol for meditation on the infinite and formless aspect of God, and reduces it to a non-committal individual choice. It is quite disconcerting when one learns that the symbol of unlimited emptiness is an important technique in traditional meditation such as the Buddhist visualization of the formless Buddha as infinite space, primordially pure.
6. I believe clarity and accuracy are vital for expositions of spiritual truths, especially so for the meditation part which provides practical tools and skilful means as well. Specific points serve as references and guidelines for practitioners by way of validating, confirming and consolidating the fruits of their efforts. Yet it is precisely these chapters that suffer the most substantial alteration in the 7th edition and in the process various subtle contradictions are created. Compare the following:
The different forms of meditation practised before consciously entering the Path, as well as the different forms of general and special meditation adopted after becoming an aspirant, are preparatory to the attainment of the highest state of Sahaj Samadhi or spontaneous meditation, in which the aspirant becomes permanently established when he realises the ultimate goal of life. (6th ed., vol. 2, p. 173.)
The different forms of meditation practised before consciously entering the spiritual path, as well as the different forms of general and special meditation adopted after becoming an aspirant, are preparatory to the attainment of the Nirvikalpa state (the “I am God” state). Nirvikalpa Samadhi or divinity in expression, is the experience of Nirvikalpa state in which the aspirant becomes permanently established after realizing the ultimate goal of life. (7th ed., p. 240.)
Thus begins the heavily edited Parts VII and VIII of The Types of Meditation, with the result that the titles of these chapters are changed from “Sahaj Samadhi” and “The Ascent To Sahaj Samadhi And Its Nature” to “Nirvikalpa Samadhi ” and “Sahaj Samadhi.”
This was the most confusing part for me during translation. Among other things, Part VII is not about Nirvikalpa Samadhi, it is about Sahaj Samadhi or spontaneous meditation. Just as when the pilgrim passes through lesser stages of fana on his way to the final Fana, there are varying degrees of annihilation of the ego-mind, so there is a progression in sahaj samadhi until its culmination in the final Sahaj Samadhi where “There is the infinite spontaneity of unfettered freedom and the unbroken peace and bliss of Truth-realisation.” (6th ed., vol. 2, p. 177.) Part VII eloquently explains and compares the degree and nature of spontaneity between pre-spiritual meditations, meditation of the aspirants, and the Sahaj Samadhi of the God-realized.
And Part VIII is not merely about Sahaj Samadhi, it mainly deals with the ascent of the soul from life of the body, to life of energy, to life of the mind, to life in eternity when initiated in Sahaj Samadhi.
It appears that the 7th edition replaces “Sahaj” by “Nirvikalpa” to meet an editorial guideline “to make textual changes only when points conflicted with God Speaks or later explanations.” (Foreword, 7th ed.) But a closer examination shows that the usage of Sahaj in the Discourses does not conflict with but embraces the meaning of Sahaj in God Speaks.
In the main text of God Speaks, “Sahaj Samadhi” appears twice. First,
In baqa-billah, the life of God-in-human being established, man as God experiences the sahaj samadhi. This means that man as God simultaneously, without the least effort, has continually and automatically the dual experience of God and of man. This is the state of Perfection. . . . when the term “Perfection” is used in terms of Divinity, there are three types of Perfection in the state of sulukiyat of baqa-billah:
The first type is known as Kamil—The Perfect One.
The second type is known as Akmal—The Most Perfect One.
The third type is known as Mukammil—The Supremely Perfect One.
(God Speaks, 2nd ed., rev. and enl., Dodd, Mead, 1973, p. 148.)
Somehow the Glossary of God Speaks defines Sahaj Samadhi as only:
The effortless and continual state of Perfection of the Perfect Master and Avatar. Divinity in action. (Ibid., p.316.)
This definition may have been based on the second mention of sahaj samadhi in God Speaks:
The very life of this Man-God or Perfect Master is the sahaj samadhi. Such a Perfect Master is at one and the same time, simultaneously, in all the universes and in all the worlds, on all the levels and on all the planes, living the life of the “One and the All.” (Ibid., p.151.)
Here “sahaj samadhi” is used to describe one attribute of the Man-God, an attribute not exclusive to Perfect Masters but shared by all three types of Perfection. Yet the misrepresentation of the term in the Glossary of God Speaks has become the basis for editing the meditation chapters of Discourses; this is made clear by the following:
Sahaj Samadhi has two forms: (1) Nirvana or absorption in divinity, and (2) Nirvikalpa state or divinity in expression. (6th ed., vol. 2, p. 187.)
Sahaj Samadhi, or divinity in action, is experienced by the Sadguru and is preceded by two states: Nirvana, or absorption in divinity; and Nirvikalpa Samadhi, or divinity in expression. (7th ed., p.250.)
As one error leads to another, this eventually creates an internal contradiction with the 7th edition Discourses in the Table of General Classification of the Types of Meditation on page 217. In it “Nirvana” is classified under “Sahaj Samadhi,” instead of preceding it as described in the above quote, an error that confuses and conflicts with explanations in the larger body of Meher Baba’s books, including God Speaks.
It is true that Discourses was not authored in the conventional way and went through many hands, but all editions except the 7th were carried with Baba’s knowledge and explicit permission. The 6th edition was in fact initiated, overseen and approved by Baba Himself and released during His lifetime. (For detail see A History of the Discourses, rev. 6th ed., vol. 4.) It has an integrity of its own, with textual flow and clarity of meaning. Changes of any kind need to involve a thorough study of the context, let alone changes of key terms like “psychic” and “Sahaj,” for there is a considerable risk of incoherence and distortion. This unfortunately did happen to the 7th edition. Having carefully compared the 6th and 7th editions and discovered significant errors and numerous infelicities in the latter, I would not recommend it as the base text for translation.
It is also true that it is the meaning behind the words that matters. But when the meaning is altered and message obscured as a direct result of wording, it is important to be aware of the difference, especially for seekers of Truth who wish for in-depth study of the Discourses, one of the foundational texts of Avatar Meher Baba’s teaching. To discriminate and strive for an intellectual understanding is, after all, not the same as making idolatry of the sacred Word.
As for a group of Meher Baba followers who meet regularly to study His Discourses, though I would advocate using the 6th edition as standard text, I am aware that people have preferences, in which case choice has to be left to each individual. Comparing different versions can generate productive discussion, for it alerts readers to points that may otherwise escape attention. When over a period of 3 months, my husband Geoff and I read the two texts side by side and word by word, we found it helpful and illuminating. Participants of Discourses meetings do use their preferred editions in the United States, with “altogether satisfactory” result. There should be no reason for us here to be at sixes and sevens over the 6th and 7th editions.
*Note: The 6th edition Discourses first published in 1967 in a 3-volume set is out of print [but available online]. It was reissued in 2007 by Sheriar Foundation as revised 6th edition in a 4-volume set, basically a reprint of the original 3-volume set, plus a 4th volume comprising a comprehensive survey of the textual and publication history of Discourses, appendices, glossary and other useful materials. All quotations of the 6th edition in this article are taken from the revised 6th edition.