Meher Baba (Devanāgarī: मेहेर बाबा ), (February 25, 1894, Merwan Sheriar Irani – January 31, 1969), was an Indian mystic and spiritual master who publicly declared in 1954 that he was the Avatar of the age.
He led a normal childhood, showing no particular inclination toward spiritual matters, until age of 19, when a short contact with the Muslim holy woman Hazrat Babajan triggered a seven-year process of spiritual transformation. Over the next months he contacted four additional spiritual figures he called "the five perfect masters." He spent seven years in spiritual training with one of them, Upasni Maharaj, before beginning his public work. The name Meher Baba, meaning "Compassionate Father," was given to him by his first followers.
From 1925 to the end of his life, Meher Baba maintained silence, and communicated by means of an alphabet board or by unique hand gestures. With his mandali ('circle' of disciples), he spent long periods in seclusion, often fasting, but would intersperse these periods with wide-ranging travels, public gatherings, and works of charity, including working with lepers, the poor, and the mad.
In 1931 he made the first of many visits to the West, gathering many followers. In the 1940s, along with selected mandali, he traveled incognito about India in what he called "The New Life." On February 10, 1954, Meher Baba declared that he was the Avatar (an incarnation of God).
After two automobile accidents, one in the United States in 1952 and one in India in 1956, his capacity to walk became seriously limited. In 1962 he invited his western followers to India for a mass darshan called The East-West Gathering. Concerned by an increasing use of LSD and other psychedelic drugs, in 1966 Meher Baba addressed their use and discredited any alleged spiritual benefits. Despite deteriorating health, he continued his "universal work," which included fasting, seclusion, and meditation, until he died on January 31, 1969. His samadhi (tomb-shrine) in Meherabad, India has become a place of international pilgrimage.
Meher Baba was an Irani born in Pune, India to a Zoroastrian family. His given name was Merwan Sheriar Irani. He was the second son of Sheriar Mundegar Irani, a Persian Zoroastrian who had been a wandering Sufi dervish before settling in Pune, and Sheriar's young wife, Shireen.
His schoolmates nicknamed the sometimes mischievous Merwan "Electricity". As a boy he formed The Cosmopolitan Club dedicated to remaining informed in world affairs and giving money to charity — money often raised by the boys betting at the horse races. Merwan had an excellent singing voice and was a multi-instrumentalist and poet. Fluent in several languages, he was especially fond of Hafez's Persian poetry, but also of Shakespeare and Shelley.
In his youth, Merwan had no mystical inclinations or experiences, but was "untroubled by a sense of his own destiny. He was more interested in sports, especially cricket. Baba later explained that a veil is always placed on the Avatar until the time is right for him to begin his work. At the age of 19, however, during his second year of college, while bicycling home from Deccan College in Pune, he met a very old Muslim woman, a spiritual master named Hazrat Babajan, who kissed him on the forehead. The event affected Merwan profoundly. He experienced visions and mystical feelings so powerful that he gave up his normal activities. He began to beat his head against a stone to maintain, as he later put it, contact with the physical world. He also contacted other spiritual figures, who (along with Babajan) he later said were the five "Perfect Masters" of the age: Hazrat Tajuddin Baba of Nagpur, Narayan Maharaj of Kedgaon, Sai Baba of Shirdi, and Upasni Maharaj of Sakori.
Upasni helped him, he later said, to integrate his mystical experiences with normal consciousness, thus enabling him to function in the world without diminishing his experience of God-realization. In 1921, at the age of 27, after living for seven years with Upasni, Merwan started to attract a following of his own. His early followers gave him the name "Meher Baba", meaning Compassionate Father.
In 1922, Meher Baba and his followers established "Manzil-e-Meem" (House of the Master) in Bombay. Here Baba began his practice of demanding strict discipline and obedience from his disciples. A year later, Baba and his mandali ("circle" of disciples) moved to an area a few miles outside Ahmednagar, which he called "Meherabad" (Meher flourishing). This ashram would become the center for his work. In 1924, Meher Baba created a resident school at Meherabad, which he called the "Prem Ashram" (in several languages "prem" means "love"). The school was free and open to all castes and faiths. The school drew multi-denominational students from around India and Iran.
From July 10, 1925 until his death in 1969, Meher Baba was silent. He communicated first by using an alphabet board, and later by unique hand gestures which were interpreted and spoken out by one of his mandali, usually by his disciple Eruch Jessawala. Meher Baba said that his silence was not undertaken as a spiritual exercise but solely in connection with his universal work.
Man’s inability to live God’s words makes the Avatar’s teaching a mockery. Instead of practicing the compassion he taught, man has waged wars in his name. Instead of living the humility, purity, and truth of his words, man has given way to hatred, greed, and violence. Because man has been deaf to the principles and precepts laid down by God in the past, in this present Avataric form, I observe silence.
In the 1930s, Meher Baba began a period of extensive world travel, with several trips to Europe and America. It was during this period that he established contact with his first close group of Western disciples. He traveled on a Persian passport, because he had given up writing as well as speaking, and would not sign the forms required by the British Government of India.
On his first trip to England in 1931 he traveled on the SS Rajputana, the same ship that was carrying Mahatma Gandhi who was sailing to the second Round Table Conference in London. Meher Baba and Gandhi had three meetings onboard including one that lasted for three hours. The British press emphasized these meetings but an aide to Gandhi said, "You may say emphatically that Gandhi never asked Meher Baba for help or for spiritual or other advice.
On the journey he was interviewed on behalf of the Associated Press, which quoted him describing his trip as a "new crusade [...] to break down all religious barriers and destroy America's materialism and amalgamate all creeds into a common element of love". His intention, according to the resulting article, was to convert thousands of Americans from sin. Describing Baba as "The Messiah", the article also claims he listed miracles he had performed, and said that a person who becomes one with the truth can accomplish anything, but that it is a weakness to perform miracles only to show spiritual power. However, another description of the interview states that when Baba was asked about the miracles attributed to him, he replied "The only miracle for the Perfect Man to perform is to make others perfect too. I want to make the Americans realize the infinite state which I myself enjoy.
Baba was invited to the "Meherashram" retreat in Harmon, New York by Malcolm and Jean Schloss. The Time magazine article on the visit states that Schloss referred to him in uppercase as "He, Him, His, Himself" and that Baba was described by his followers variously as the "God Man", "Messiah" or "Perfect Master".
On May 20, 1932 Baba arrived in New York and provided the press with a 1,000-word written statement, which was described by devotee Quentin Tod as his Message to America. In the statement Baba proclaimed himself "one with the infinite source of everything," and declared his intention to break his silence: "When I speak, my original message will be delivered to the world and it will have to be accepted". When asked about the Indo-British political situation, he had no comment, but his followers explained that he had told Gandhi to abandon politics.
In the West, Meher Baba met with interested individuals who had heard of his spiritual status and his work in India. Many of these were celebrities and artists, such as Hollywood notables Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, Tallulah Bankhead, Boris Karloff, Tom Mix, Maurice Chevalier, Ernst Lubitsch and others. On June 1, 1932 Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. held a reception for Baba at Pickfair where he delivered a message to Hollywood. In 1934, after announcing that he would break his self-imposed silence in the Hollywood Bowl, Baba suddenly changed his plans and boarded the Empress of Canada and sailed to Hong Kong without explanation. The Associated Press reported that "Baba had decided to postpone the word-fast breaking until next February because 'conditions are not yet ripe'. He returned to England in 1936, but did not return to the United States again until the early 1950s.
In the late 1930s, Meher Baba invited a group of western women to join him in India, where he arranged a series of trips throughout India that became known as the Blue Bus Tours. When they returned home, many newspapers treated their journey as an occasion for scandal. Time Magazine's 1936 review of God is my Adventure describes the US's fascination with the "long-haired, silky-mustached Parsee named Shri Sadgaru [sic] Meher Baba" four years earlier.
During the course of early gatherings of his close circle and followers, Meher Baba gave discourses on various spiritual subjects. Between 1938 and 1943, at the request of Princess Norina Matchabelli, one of his earliest Western devotees, Meher Baba dictated a series of discourses on his alphabet board for her New York publication Meher Baba Journal. These discourses, transcribed or worked up by close disciples from points given by Baba, address many aspects of the spiritual life, and provide practical and simple direction for the aspirant. During those years, at least one discourse appeared each month in the journal. C.D. Deshmukh, a close disciple of Meher Baba, compiled and edited the discourses.
Between 1939 and 1954 in India, a five-volume compilation titled Discourses of Meher Baba received several printings. In 1967 Meher Baba personally supervised the editing and publication of a new three-volume version of the Discourses, known as the sixth edition. The widely available seventh edition of the Discourses first published in 1987 (after Baba's death), contains numerous editorial changes not specifically authorized by Meher Baba.
In the 1940s, Meher Baba did extensive work with a category of people he termed masts: persons "intoxicated with God. According to Meher Baba these individuals are essentially disabled by their enchanting experience of the higher spiritual planes. Although outwardly masts may appear irrational or even insane, Meher Baba said that their spiritual status was actually quite elevated, and that by meeting with them, he helped them to move forward spiritually while enlisting their aid in his spiritual work.
Meher Baba visited literally thousands of masts throughout the subcontinent, and occasionally set up ashrams where they were cared for. One of the best known of these masts, known as Mohammed Mast, lived at Meher Baba's encampment at Meherabad until his death in 2003.
In 1949 Meher Baba began an enigmatic period which he called "The New Life". Following a series of questions on their readiness to obey even the most difficult of his requests, Meher Baba selected twenty companions to join him in a life of complete "hopelessness, helplessness and aimlessness".
He made provisions for those dependent on him, then he and his companions otherwise gave up all property and financial responsibilities. They then traveled about India incognito, without money, with no permanent lodging, begging for food, and carrying out Baba's instructions in accordance with a strict set of "conditions of the New Life". These included absolute acceptance of any circumstance, and consistent good cheer in the face of any difficulty. Companions who failed to comply were sent away.
About the New Life Meher Baba wrote:
This New Life is endless, and even after my physical death it will be kept alive by those who live the life of complete renunciation of falsehood, lies, hatred, anger, greed and lust; and who, to accomplish all this, do no lustful actions, do no harm to anyone, do no backbiting, do not seek material possessions or power, who accept no homage, neither covet honor nor shun disgrace, and fear no one and nothing; by those who rely wholly and solely on God, and who love God purely for the sake of loving; who believe in the lovers of God and in the reality of Manifestation, and yet do not expect any spiritual or material reward; who do not let go the hand of Truth, and who, without being upset by calamities, bravely and wholeheartedly face all hardships with one hundred percent cheerfulness, and give no importance to caste, creed and religious ceremonies. This New Life will live by itself eternally, even if there is no one to live it.
Meher Baba ended the New Life in February, 1952 after a period of seclusion and fasting, and once again began a round of public appearances throughout India and the West.
In the 1950s Meher Baba established two centers outside of India: Meher Spiritual Center, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Avatar's Abode, near Brisbane, Australia. He inaugurated the Meher Spiritual Center in the United States in April, 1952. On May 24, 1952, en route from the Meher Spiritual Center to Meher Mount in Ojai, California, the car in which Meher Baba was a passenger was struck head-on near Prague, Oklahoma. He and his companions were thrown from the vehicle and suffered many injuries. Meher Baba's leg was severely broken and he had facial injuries. The injured were treated in Duke Hospital in Durham, North Carolina after which they returned to Myrtle Beach to recuperate.
In September 1953, at Dehradun, Meher Baba declared that he was "The Highest of the High." On February 10, 1954 in Meherastana U.P., India, Meher Baba publicly and explicitly declared his Avatarhood for the first time, spelling out on his alphabet board "Avatar Meher Baba Ki Jai.
In September of that year, Meher Baba gave a "men-only" sahavas at Meherabad which later became known as the "Three Incredible Weeks. During this time Baba issued a declaration, "Meher Baba's Call," wherein he affirmed his Avatarhood "irrespective of the doubts and convictions" of others.
In October 1954, Meher Baba discarded his alphabet board and began using a unique set of hand gestures to communicate.
On December 2, 1956, outside Satara, India, the car in which Meher Baba was being driven went out of control and a second serious automobile collision occurred. Meher Baba suffered a fractured pelvis and other severe injuries. Dr. Nilu, a close mandali, was killed. This collision seriously incapacitated Meher Baba. Despite his physicians' predictions to the contrary, after great effort Baba managed to walk again, but from that point was in constant pain and was severely limited in his ability to move. In fact, during his trip to the West in 1958 he often needed to be carried from venue to venue. Baba indicated that his automobile accidents and the suffering that attended them were, like his silence, purposeful and brought about by his will.
In 1962, Meher Baba gave one of his last public functions, a series of meetings he called The East-West Gathering. At these meetings, in which his western followers were invited to meet his Indian disciples, Baba gave darshan to many thousands of people, despite the physical strain this caused.
In the mid-1960s Meher Baba became concerned with the increasing drug culture in the West and began a correspondence with several Western academics including Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert in which he strongly discouraged the use of all hallucinogenic drugs for spiritual purposes. In 1966 Meher Baba's responses to questions on drugs were published in a pamphlet titled God in a Pill? Meher Baba stated that drug use was spiritually damaging and that if enlightenment were possible through drugs then "God is not worthy of being God. Meher Baba instructed some of his young Western disciples to spread this message, which increased Meher Baba's notoriety among the young during this period. In an interview with Frederick Chapman, a Harvard graduate and Fulbright scholar who met Baba during a year study in India, Baba stated that LSD is "harmful physically, mentally and spiritually", and warned that "the continued use of LSD leads to madness or death."
From the East-West Gathering onward, Meher Baba's health steadily deteriorated. Despite the physical toll it took on his body, Meher Baba continued to undertake long periods in seclusion, fasting and meditating.
In late July 1968, Meher Baba completed a particularly taxing period of seclusion and emerged saying that his work was "completed 100% to my satisfaction". By this point he was confined to a wheelchair. Within a few months his condition worsened and he was bed-ridden. His body was wracked by intense muscular spasms that had no clear origin. Despite the care of several doctors, the spasms grew progressively worse.
On January 31, 1969, Meher Baba died, conveying by his last gestures, "Do not forget that I am God. In time his devotees called this day Amartithi (deathless day). Meher Baba's body was laid out for public viewing at his samadhi (tomb-shrine) at Meherabad. Covered with roses, and cooled by ice, his body was kept available to the public for one week before its final burial. Before his passing, Meher Baba had made extensive preparations for a public darshan program to be held in Pune, India. His mandali decided to proceed with the arrangements despite the physical absence of the host. Several thousand attended this "Last Darshan," including many hundred people from the U.S.A., Europe, and Australia.
Meher Baba's metaphysical views are most notably described in his books Discourses and God Speaks. His cosmology incorporates concepts and terms from Vedanta, Sufism, and Christianity. Meher Baba upheld the concept of nonduality, the view that diverse creation, or duality, is an illusion and that the goal of life is conscious realization of the absolute Oneness of God inherent in all animate and inanimate beings and things. Meher Baba compares God's original state to an infinite, shoreless ocean which has only unconscious divinity — unaware of itself because there is nothing but itself. From this state, God had the "whim" to know Himself, and asked "Who am I? In response to this question, creation came into existence. In this analogy, what was previously a still, shoreless Ocean now stirred, forming innumerable "drops" of itself or souls.
According to Baba, each soul pursues conscious divinity by evolving: that is, experiencing form in seven "kingdoms" — stone/metal, vegetable, worm, fish, bird, animal, and human. The soul gathers sanskaras (impressions) in each form; these impressions lead to further evolution expressed by taking new, more complex forms. With each new form, increasing consciousness is gained, until the soul experiences and discards forms from all the evolutionary kingdoms. The final form of the soul's evolution is the human form. Only in the human form can the soul experience its own divinity, by entering into involution, through which it gradually eliminates all impressions which cause the appearance of separateness from God.
From out of the depth of unbroken Infinfity arose the Question, "Who am I?" And to that Question there is the answer, "I am God!
Meher Baba says that at all times on Earth there are fifty-six incarnate God-realized souls, and that of these souls there are always five who constitute the five Perfect Masters of their era. When one of the five perfect masters dies, Baba says, another God-realized soul among the 56 immediately replaces him or her by taking up that office.
The Avatar, according to Meher Baba, is a special Perfect Master, the first soul to achieve God-realization. This soul, the original Perfect Master, or the "Ancient One", never ceases to incarnate. Baba says that this particular soul personifies the state of God which in Hinduism is named Vishnu and in Sufism is named Parvardigar, i.e. the sustainer or preserver state of God. According to Meher Baba the Avatar appears on Earth every 700-1400 years, and is 'brought down' into human form by the five perfect masters of the time to aid in the process of moving creation in its never ending journey toward Godhood. Baba said that in other ages this role was fulfilled by Zoroaster, Rama, Krishna, Gautama Buddha, Jesus, and lastly by Muhammad.
Baba equates the concept of Avatar with terms from numerous diverse traditions, including Rasool, Messiah, Christ, Maitreya, Savior, Redeemer, etc. Meher Baba describes the Avatar as "a gauge against which man can measure what he is and what he may become. He trues the standard of human values by interpreting them in terms of divinely human life.
Most of Meher Baba's followers accept his claim. and he is said to be "revered by millions around the world as the Avatar of the age and a God realized being."
There is no central organization surrounding Meher Baba and no coordinated interaction between groups or even any requirement to be part of groups. Accordingly there is no reliable method for counting his devotees. Indeed "the group is so small that it has escaped the notice of religious studies experts. There are no rites, rituals or duties required of his followers (who commonly call themselves "Baba lovers"). However, many devotees observe a few common practices on an informal basis. These include keeping pictures and other souvenirs; regular times of personal meditation and remembrance, and refraining from practices Baba disliked, especially the use of psychedelic drugs including marijuana.
Gatherings of Baba followers are highly informal and social in nature. Special effort will be made to gather together on Amartithi, the anniversary of Meher Baba's death, and on his birthday. Most Baba Lovers keep silent each July 10 (Silence Day), observing the request Meher Baba often made of his followers during his lifetime.
Three prayers written by Meher Baba, "O Parvardigar", the "Prayer of Repentance" and the "Beloved God Prayer", are recited morning and evening at his samadhi in India, and are often recited at gatherings of his followers. At Meherabad, his followers maintain Meher Baba's practice of lighting a dhuni fire in a fire-ring on the 12th of each month. After dhuni prayers, participants throw sandalwood twigs dipped in ghee into the flame as physical representations of fears and desires they wish to relinquish.
Although Meher Baba had initially begun gaining popular notoriety in the West as early as 1932 as the result of attention received from some celebrities of the time (such as Charles Laughton, Tallulah Bankhead, Boris Karloff and others), and the rather disillusioned account of Paul Brunton (A Search in Secret India, 1934), he achieved additional attention in the West over three decades later, through the work of Pete Townshend of The Who. Parts of the rock-opera Tommy (May, 1969) were inspired by Townshend's study of Meher Baba, to whom the album was dedicated. The Who's 1971 song Baba O'Riley was named in part after Meher Baba and on his first solo album, Who Came First, Townshend recorded the Jim Reeves song, "There's A Heartache Following Me", saying that it was Meher Baba's favorite song. In addition, Bobby McFerrin's 1988 Grammy Award winning song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was inspired by a popular quote of Baba's seen in numerous Baba posters and inspiration cards.