Don E. Stevens
A life dedicated to Avatar Meher Baba
Don Stevens was born on a small homestead in Nevada, USA, in 1919. 5 years later he moved with his family to California. Although Don’s father died when he was just 7 years old, his mother encouraged a strong work ethic in Don and his two elder brothers, with education being paramount for them all. Don graduated from John Hopkins University in 1940 as a research chemist, leading to a long career in the oil industry.
It was around this time that Don was introduced and initiated into Universal Sufism, brought to the West by Hazrat Inayat Khan. Don’s teacher, Murshida Rabia Martin, appointed by Inayat Khan, who, after his death in 1927, fulfilled her duty, as the Murshida, to find a new master to lead the order. After an extensive search she discovered and contacted Meher Baba who agreed to guide this order, and renamed this as Sufism Reoriented. Meher Baba also created a new Sufi Charter, assisted by Don and Ivy O Duce, Don requested and Baba agreed to new democratic principles be incorporated into this charter, which Baba said was to be relevant to all Sufis, everywhere.
Don first met Meher Baba in New York, 1952. Thereafter Baba would refer to Don as ‘my spiritual son’, close mandali (disciple) and that he had an ‘almost perfect balance of head and heart’.
Soon after this initial meeting Baba requested Sufism Reoriented, specifically both Ivy Duce and Don, to edit and publish ‘God Speaks’. Don was then asked by Baba to re-edit ‘ Discourses’ for Western seekers and ‘Listen Humanity’, this included new discourses by Baba and Don’s own experience at the Four Languages Sahavas in Meherabad in 1955.
Baba also requested Don oversee translations and publication of ‘God Speaks’ and ‘Discourses’ for European readers, this work was then extended to international translations of these books, including various Indian languages. Don also wrote and collaborated with others to produce many more Meher Baba inspired publications.
Don was given an open invitation by Baba to visit him if he was a day’s journey from Meherabad. His frequent travelling, due to professional work in the international oil business, particularly in the East, enabled Don’s ongoing close contact with his master.
Working with small, focused groups became a key element for Don’s spiritual work. These groups first began to take shape in the USA, at the request of Ivy Duce, to help the young and spiritually curious knocking at her door, interested in discovering more about Meher Baba.
When Don relocated to Europe in the late 1960’s, with residences in London and France, he continued to lead many study groups on a regular basis, in both locations and the USA. The structure for these groups was an evolving process, a departure from the traditional teacher/student format; Meher Baba’s New Life and Companionship became a model, spirituality within daily life an essential ingredient.
Don’s work for Meher Baba also continued to remain international, to include more worldwide groups, seminars and workshops, as well as his many publishing projects, often written whilst on the move and in collaboration with other Baba lovers.
Don would often retell stories of his time with Meher Baba. His London Group intrigued by the story of Baba sending Don with another close disciple, Eruch, to visit various holy sites in India and to take with him the small movie camera he had brought to India. At the time Don had no inkling as to why Baba had sent him to these places, a revelation came many years later, after Baba had ‘dropped His body’ in 1969;
‘ One day out of the blue I had a telephone call from Eruch telling me that he had finally seen the video-cassettes showing the places Baba had me film, and that Eruch was surprised to find that the filmed sites were identical with places Baba had asked Eruch to take him to, repeatedly and anonymously. …….now for the first time after all these years, he had discovered that they were identical to the places Baba visited repeatedly with Eruch and never explained to Eruch why he had done this so many times, never telling even the closest mandali a word about the visits. Always, when Baba arrived with Eruch, Baba would go, Eruch said, into a profound meditation for some time. Then, when he had finished, without any discussion they would leave and return home. Eruch had never discussed this with anyone, but when he saw the identity with the places filmed by Don under instructions from Baba. Eruch realized that I had a right to know about the visits with Eruch.’
In 2004, the London group persuaded Don to lead them, with other companions from France and America, on an extraordinary journey through India to revisit these important spiritual sites.
The trip included the remarkable Kailash Temple in Ellora, the exquisite Jain Temple, Dilwara, on Mount Abu, Rajasthan, The Sufi Shrine of Moennidin Chisti in Ajmer, the impressive Maharastra fort of Shivaji and the humble mosque where Meher Baba stayed with his Companions in The New Life. The journey culminated in the group’s destination at Meherabad.
It had occurred to Don whilst on this trip that, by his presence at these holy sites many years earlier, Meher Baba had imbibed each with a profound and powerful spiritual energy and significance, to the great benefit of future pilgrims.
On his return to London, Don was admitted to hospital with acute dehydration and salmonella poisoning. He again recounts;
‘As I came out the hospital doors in London, it hit me suddenly and very clearly that what I was involved in was clearly the fulfilling of a statement made by Meher Baba to the London press in 1932, that he had not come into the world to start a new religion nor build cathedrals and such like, but to help revivify the world’s existing great religions, and to make their Truths more readily available to the sincere seeker after truth, and to gather the (warring) religions together like beads on one string.’
Inspired by this revelation Don encouraged many others to accompany him on four more of these pilgrimages across India (the last in 2009 with over 50 people), enabling many to share this arduous, eventful and often profound journey.
In 2006, Don led a European pilgrimage to Spain and Italy, once again travelling to places visited by Meher Baba; Avila, Madrid, Barcelona, Assisi and Portofino. This journey also included the Alhambra in Granada and the 12th Century Synagogue and Mezquita Mosque/ Cathedral in Cordoba. All architecturally beautiful and crucially marking the relative harmony between Muslims, Jews and Christians in 8th to 13th Century Andalusia. Integral to the European Pilgrimage was a seminar in Marseille, to include participants from different spiritual paths; Sufi, Christian, Zen Buddhist and Meher Baba devotees. Another seminar with similar intentions and broad spectrum was held in Berlin (2010). Don was now unfortunately too unwell to attend.
Before his death in 2011 Don assembled a steering committee, comprising of key organisers from these pilgrimages, to work on establishing them for posterity. This was the framework for the Beads on One String Foundation. To all those that knew Don, as a wise, generous and tireless companion and mentor, his leaving was a tremendous loss. It is now heartening to note that, with God/Meher Baba remaining the pivotal focus, this work Don undertook internationally with many groups and individuals continues to thrive.
Edited and narrated by Don Stevens. Created and published under Meher Baba’s supervision, this book’s central section is comprised of nine discourses by Meher Baba on such subjects as death and immortality, sleep, war, freedom, the spiritual path, and love. An opening section by Don Stevens describes a sahavas program with Meher Baba in 1955, and a closing section discusses the question of Meher Baba’s Avatarhood.
TAGS: | DON STEVENS | GOD SPEAKS | MEHER BABA MANDALI