What a difference a day makes, or even just half an hour or so, if one spends that time in the company of a great spiritual master, most especially if that master is someone considered to be “God in human form.” Rick Chapman, an international marketing research consultant, had that opportunity during the 1960s when he was a recent college graduate in his twenties.
It is difficult to write an entire book about an encounter of less than an hour, but Chapman handles the task thoughtfully and with good humor, starting with a very brief biography of his younger self: he grew up in Kansas, was drawn to great literature and to spirituality through the words of Jesus as a teenager, “was good at high school and went to Harvard.” He must have been extra good at Harvard, because he was able to secure a Fulbright teaching fellowship to India. He had by then heard the compelling anti-drug, pro-spirituality message from the Indian “guru” known as Avatar Meher Baba, so going to India to teach was a perfect fit—in fact, it was his greatest hope. It would allow him to draw closer to Meher Baba’s family and disciples, even if he could not see the Master in person. In 1966, Meher Baba was in strict seclusion, seeing no one outside his few resident disciples, not even his closest followers.
Chapman draws us into the fascinating, often frustrating, often hilarious jangle of sensations that is India, through the eyes of a young man both culturally curious and spiritually inclined. To American youth at the time, India embodied all the “cool” in the known world. Chapman learned the charms and drawbacks of ultra-spicy curries, ultra-strong tobacco and, for lack of running hot water, ultra-cold baths. He experienced the mysterious sub-continental transportation system in intimate detail—at one point he and a companion had to pedal a bicycle rickshaw
themselves—with its owner/driver as the passenger—in order to get to a taxi stand in time to meet up with the train that had left them stranded on the platform one station earlier. (Chapman described the eventual taxi ride as “India’s version of Russian roulette…Indian drivers essentially indulge in a non-stop game of ‘chicken’ the moment they settle in behind the wheel.”)
Chapman was assigned to a college in Ahmedabad where he initially ran afoul of the system when, in his enthusiasm for his master’s transcendent message, he used some of the writings of Meher Baba as a tool for teaching English grammar. All of these culture clashes paled, however, against the background of what was happening to Chapman inwardly as he made the acquaintance of Meher Baba’s closest devotees. On one such visit he learned, almost by accident, that Meher Baba had invited him for a meeting, for ten minutes only. This was a rare occurrence at a time when the master, observing the strictest seclusion in a lifetime of wide-ranging spiritual activity, had a sign posted outside his ashram: “AVATAR MEHER BABA HAS STOPPED SEEING AND GIVING DARSHAN TO ANYONE – BY ORDER.”
As the day approached, the author describes in hour-by-hour detail his travels to and high anticipation of the meeting, juxtaposed with what Meher Baba was doing at the same time, in a small residential estate in the middle of the Deccan plateau, several times asking his disciples about the author’s impending visit. These intimate glimpses are both thrilling and poignant, as we see Chapman’s desperate longing to arrive at his goal, balanced by the mind-boggling “time-keeping” that infused all of Meher Baba’s work.
As the prime mover of all events, Meher Baba, who obviously wanted to give his young visitor as much of an experience of “his unique Avataric energy” (Chapman’s words) as possible, allowed him to stay well beyond the promised ten minutes. Although the total time was still very short in earthly terms, to Chapman “it seemed like an eternity in a moment.”
The author characterized the meeting as a “Crash Course on What Really Matters and How to Go About Finding It.” At one point, he said, “I became conscious of a flowing of love from Baba to me, a flowing like water flows in a brook,” a literally palpable experience for Chapman during his meeting. And though he was enraptured with being in the human company of his master, throughout his meeting Meher Baba emphasized to him, “You must strive to see me as I
One of the more remarkable aspects of Chapman’s “conversation” with Meher Baba is that the master didn’t speak – he had maintained silence since 1925 and communicated solely by hand gestures, interpreted by an intimate disciple who was an accomplished “interpreter,” but ultimately those gestures were understood in a direct and heartfelt way by those who met him.
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