Eruch Jessawalla rang the “Bell of Warning” in 1980 after having received an inner directive from Avatar Meher Baba to do so. (Meher Baba had “dropped the body” 11 years earlier in 1969.) He wrote a letter to the worldwide Baba community warning them of persons posing as spiritual intermediaries between them and the Avatar. His letter was pointedly directed at the organization Baba himself had founded, Sufism Reoriented, which he renamed Sufism re-Reoriented in his letter.
SR received its charter from Baba in 1952 after several years of intermittent collaboration between Ivy Duce and Don Stevens, and Baba and others. Ivy Duce was confirmed as the murshida or spiritual director of this order and was promised by Baba that her students would be protected from her mistakes in light of the fact that her title was honorific, (i.e. she was not conscious of the higher planes of consciousness) and on the condition of absolute honesty on her part. (This promise was misconstrued over time to mean that Baba had guaranteed Murshida Duce would not make mistakes, i.e. that she was infallible.)1
Murshida Duce rued the fact that she was (only) gross conscious, and repeatedly expressed this to Baba over the years.2 In fact, her importuning on this and other subjects was such that Baba nicknamed her “the whiner”.3 Her earlier studies had emphasized the occult sciences and practices like astrology, palmistry, tarot etc. She was enamored of those gifted with psychic powers. Baba repeatedly dissuaded his lovers from pursuing such occult interests as they have nothing to do with genuine spirituality. However, Murshida Duce maintained her interest in them even after being chided by Baba to give them up. One such instance occurred after the 1962 East West Gathering when she went to Dehli to see an astrologer.4 This incident shocked the mandali for its willfulness.5 Another strange instance of her arguing with and disobeying Baba concerned Baba’s order to her to discontinue the use of Inayat Khan’s graded papers with her students. She refused. Don Stevens has gone on record on a number of issues that he took exception to, including the one just mentioned. The most important of his observations is to correct Murshida Duce’s assertion that Baba promised a continuous succession of illumined saints to guide the order. He relates that Baba expressly disabused Ivy of this idea through Don himself, but Ivy yet again willfully ignored Baba. Don Stevens would eventually leave SR because of Ivy Duce’s dishonesty and uncontrollable obsession with the occult after Baba dropped the body.6
For several years before the 1980 “Bell of Warning”, the mandali had been hearing stories that amounted to a resounding theme: Ivy was completely enamored of psychics and astrologers and was even sending her students to them. (One psychic confirmed to Ivy that she had been Madame Blavatsky in her previous life.)7 She obviously did not have the trust and faith in Baba to dispense with this constant running after psychic advisors. When in 1975 Peggy Muir fell and broke her hip in India, the telegram Ivy sent to her informed her that the psychic Irene had determined it was not cancer. There was no mention of Baba in the telegram. This shocked the mandali.8 They could not believe there was no reference to Baba. In another startling story which is recounted in Gary Mullins’ autobiography, Gary drove from the Bay Area to Oregon to meet a psychic who favorably impressed him. Upon returning home, Gary related his experience to Ivy who was so taken by the account that she and Allan Cohen got in a car and drove all the way to Oregon to meet her. This psychic would prove to be Ivy’s go-to psychic, Irene. Ivy was at this time already an elderly woman; such was her enthusiasm for psychism. Gary relates that the entire SR order got past life readings from Irene whose talent was as a medium: she accessed her information from an disincarnate entity from Atlantis named Mro.9
In the late ’70s the mandali started hearing stories about a newcomer to the SR scene, a person called Jim Mackie. It became clear that JM was held in high regard, that in fact he was considered spiritually advanced. Murshida confided in some that JM regarded her as being on the 6th plane, and that she believed he must likewise be spiritually advanced. Her spiritual status now acknowledged, her portrait along with Jim Mackie’s portrait soon replaced Baba’s portrait as objects of meditation, as this was the sufi way, so she explained to her students.
Such stories, and there were many of them, alarmed the mandali and in 1980 Eruch received his inner directive to ring the “Bell of Warning”. Eruch’s letter of warning referenced Baba’s own “Last Warning” issued shortly before he dropped the body in 1969. Baba’s “Last Warning” warned his lovers to not repose their trust in anyone, however attractive, except the Highest of the High. Eruch repeated what Baba had explained about his Avataric Advent: that for 100 years (and a little more) after the Avatar drops the body it is as if he remains in the body; his link to his lovers is as if he is still incarnate and it behooves his lovers to regard him as if he were physically among them; that in this time period, no saint or guru, real or imagined, should displace the “Only One Worthy of Worship”; it is in this time period that the “wine shop” is open to all who have the supreme good fortune of entering and carousing.
When the sufi delegation came to Meherazad in October, 1980 to discuss the “Bell of Warning”, Eruch told the delegation that it was not Murshida Duce’s role to appoint a successor.10 He told the Murshida through the delegation that she should leave it to Baba. But the sufi delegation and Ivy herself took such high umbrage at this “interference” in their affairs that this priceless advice fell on deaf ears.
The sufi charter carefully provides for the administration of the sufi order by a democratically elected body empowered to administer the order apart from the spiritual office of murshid(a). Baba had promised that he would see to the spiritual leadership of the order in his own way and time. But his promise was insufficient to satisfy Ivy’s need to resolve this problem herself. And so Jim Mackie was installed as the spiritually illumined “promised one” upon her death some months later.
After the October meeting at Meherazad, there were letters back and forth from the mandali to Ivy, other key sufis such as Allan Cohen, sufis who had left the order because of their extreme aversion to the cult now centered around Jim Mackie (and Murshida Duce), Don Stevens and others. Sufism Reoriented published a booklet entitled “Sufism Speaks Out” in an angry collective response to the meeting at Meherazad. This booklet is a marvel of tendentious reasoning and laughable posturing.
Eruch and Mani did not wish to sustain an argument about the “Bell of Warning” and did not subsequently discuss the matter publicly. Eruch had obeyed the inner command prompted by the Master of Masters to warn his lovers to be aware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Eruch had written Allan Cohen who had dismissed Eruch’s warning as a “fuss”:
When I re-read your letter to me of Nov. 8, and came across your words “our latest understanding of the status of the recent fuss” it reminded me of a dervish whose beard had caught fire and a simpleton nearby took advantage of it to warm his hands. In the long years that we the mandali spent at the feet of Beloved Baba we learned to obey Him by His Grace, and to try to behave in such a way as to be worthy slaves of our Lord and Master Avatar Meher Baba. And during the years of constant proximity with our Beloved we experienced myriads of His moods in our daily life with Him. We witnessed His Love, compassion, Tolerance and Forgiveness for one and all who came to Him, as well as His Divine Wrath and Fire.
Do you think that by now we are not able to be independant of what we hear or see in order to sense His bidding and what would please Him? Remember in whose companionship and service our hair has turned grey. Do you think that we would act on this grave issue with impetuosity?” (letter continues on hyperlink)
In 1989 I was in India at Meher Baba’s Samadhi with Brynar Mehl, a former long time member of Sufism Reoriented who had met Meher Baba and been a student of Margaret Craske. He had had a close relationship with Murshida Duce but felt compelled to resign from SR because of the order’s focus having been displaced from Baba on to Jim Mackie. He told me that right after Murshida Duce passed away, she physically appeared to him and told him she had made a mistake with Jim Mackie, but somehow Baba would work it out.
1. This is common knowledge. I personally heard the sufi preceptor Lud Dimpfl say on Meher Center in the 1970’s that “whatever murshida says, is as if Baba had said it.” Upon hearing this, I walked out of the room.
2. From Mani Irani
3. Ivy Duce had a reputation among the mandali!
4. See How a Master Works, by Ivy Duce for this story which she recounts at length.
5. Related to me from a former sufi, from Mani Irani.
6. Ask any honest member of Sufism Reoriented from the time period in question- the 1970’s, about Murshida Duce’s use of psychics, astrologers and mediums.
7. Kent Rogers, since deceased, related this to me. He got it from a member of SR.
8. From tapes of Meherazad meeting with sufi delegation.
9. From “Dancing The Beguine”, by Gary Mullins: chapter “Trip To Oregon”.
10. From tapes of Meherazad meeting…