06 June 2008

An Introduction to Meher Baba: The Divine Beloved


by Kendra Crossen

This is an article I wrote many years ago, but I think it's still current.

Meher Baba is a unique spiritual figure of our time, for he claimed to be the latest advent of God in human form—the Avatar of our age: “I am the Christ, the personification of love.”

The Avatar, he said, “repeats his manifestation from time to time in different cycles: He adopts different human forms and different names, coming to different places to reveal truth in different clothing and different languages. This he does to raise humanity from the pit of ignorance and help free it from the bondage of delusion.” In the past the Avatar came as Abraham, Zoroaster, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. As Meher Baba, he issued once again the Avatar’s Call— “Come all unto me”—­inviting one and all to love, obey, and surrender to him.

What kind of man dares to make this claim? The story of Meher Baba is complex and often enigmatic. One writer has likened him to a huge diamond blazing in the sun, which can only be seen one facet at a time.

He was born Merwan Sheriar Irani, to Persian Zoroastrian parents, in Pune, India, in 1894. His early disciples, gathered in 1921, were the first to call him Meher Baba, which means “Compassionate Father.”

Baba lived simply in the midst of intense activity. He ran ashrams for men and women, a hospital and dispensary, and shelters for lepers and for the poor. He headed a school where pupils of every caste and religion mixed freely; Baba himself bathed the “untouchable” Hindu boys, washed clothes, and cleaned latrines.

Meher Baba traveled the world, making his first visit to the West on the Rajputana in 1931, the same ship that Gandhi took to attend the Round Table Conference in London. (On board, Gandhi told Baba, “I feel within me that you are something great.” But he did not take Baba’s advice that he must give up politics in order to advance spiritually.) After England, his travels took him, among other places, from the film studios of Hollywood, where he charmed the likes of Tallulah Bankhead and Mary Pickford, to the teeming streets of Shanghai, to a secluded cave in Assisi where Saint Francis used to meditate.

An unusual aspect of his work took him thousands of miles across India in the 1940s to contact sadhus, saints, and “God-intoxicated” men and women, known as masts (pronounced “musts”), who are dazed by their experiences of higher consciousness. He also sought out the destitute and the disabled to help them and give them his blessing. Loving attention was given to the mad, whom he cared for in a special ashram.

From late 1949 to early 1952, Baba and a small group of men and women companions lived what he called the New Life of “hopelessness and helplessness,” relying “wholly and solely on God” and inviting “all calamities and difficulties.” It was a period of complete external renunciation in which they wandered through India, mostly on foot, and begged for their daily needs.

In the 1950s Baba suffered two automobile accidents. Despite the severe pain caused by his injuries, he held mass gatherings in India at which huge crowds—including Hindus, Muslims, Zoroastrians, and Christians—received his blessing (darshan) in the form of an embrace, a glance, or a piece of candy or fruit from his hand. He also met with his Western “lovers” (as he called his followers) at Meher Spiritual Center, founded for him in 1944 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and at Avatar’s Abode in Queensland, Australia.

During the 1960s, Meher Baba spent more and more time in deep seclusion, devoted to what he termed his inner universal work. He did, however, take the time to reply to letters from Richard Alpert (later known as the spiritual teacher Ram Dass) and others who sought his views on the use of drugs. In response, Baba issued the warning that spiritual aspirants who genuinely long for union with God must shun the use of mind-altering drugs.

All of Meher Baba’s activities from July 10, 1925, were carried out in complete silence. He communicated at first by pointing to letters on an alphabet board and later through hand signs, gestures, and expressions. His silence, he said, was undertaken not as an ascetic vow but as a necessary condition of his universal work for the spiritual upliftment of all. Someday he would break his silence—by uttering the “Word that was spoken in the beginningless beginning”—and this would signal his manifestation.

On January 31, 1969, some months after having announced that his work was “completed one hundred percent to my satisfaction,” Meher Baba dropped the body. (“I can never die,” he had once stated. “I am not this body that you see. It is only a coat that I put on when I visit you. I am Infinite Consciousness.”) This happened seemingly without his having uttered the mystical sound in the manner he had predicted, so it remains a mystery exactly what he meant by the breaking of his silence and whether or not the Word was released, sparking the Manifestation. His body is buried at Meherabad, near Ahmednagar in Maharashtra State, India, and his Samadhi (tomb-shrine) has become a place of pilgrimage for lovers of God from all over the world. On the stone slab covering the crypt are etched his words “I have come not to teach but to awaken.”

How Meher Baba awakens the hearts of those who come into his orbit is a vast subject in itself. “It was as if to each man or woman who approached him, he embodied something that person had been waiting for throughout his or her life,” wrote the Hopkinsons in Much Silence. “What is it we have all, each one of us, been waiting for throughout our lives? An intense experience of love. Meher Baba radiated love so that it appeared to even a casual visitor as though Baba loved him or her in some quite special way.”

One disciple wrote, “My most outstanding impression of that first meeting is one of peering into bottomless pools of infinite love and tenderness as my eyes met his.” Kitty Davy, author of Love Alone Prevails, after meeting Baba, rose weeping in the night and shook a companion awake, telling her, “He is so wonderful—so lovely.” The writer Leo Tolstoy’s daughter-in-law said of her encounter with Baba, “I saw Christ before me . . . , in the expression of all His figure and His divinely lit-up face, in His eyes beaming love.” And a mast told Baba, “No one, until you came, has touched my heart with the arrow of divine love. . . . You are the spiritual authority of the time, and if I were to die I would take another body to be close to you.”

Baba was as delightfully human as he was awesomely divine. His close Australian disciple Francis Brabazon wrote: “Although Baba was silent, there was no ‘sitting silently at the feet of the master’ with him; indeed some who came to the ashram for that purpose were looked upon as oddities, unripe yet to enjoy the Master’s company. Conversation was winged; and when the jokes were rich and the stories absurdly tall, Baba was hard put to prevent his merriment breaking into sounding laughter. This was truly God-the-Man—God enjoying his Lovers’ efforts to entertain him.”

In addition to humor, Baba was fond of games such as Ping-Pong, cards, and cricket. His favorite music ranged from Indian devotional singing (qawwali, kirtan, and bhajan) to Negro spirituals, from country singer Jim Reeves’s “Welcome to My World” to Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” (Baba said the latter had deep spiritual significance). He loved the Sufi poets Hafiz, Rumi, and Kabir, especially when they celebrated the longing of the lover for the divine Beloved. The mysteries of Rex Stout and books by P. G. Wodehouse and J.R.R. Tolkien were read aloud to him for his relaxation.

Baba was at home in every situation and communicated easily with all kinds of people. “When I am with Sadhus, he said once, “no one is more serious than I. When I am with children, I play marbles with them. I am in all, and one with all.” Animals, too, often received his special attention and at times even seemed to seek out his blessing.

This expression of unity with all life is characteristic of the Avatar, who knows from experience that “there is nothing but God. He is the only reality and we are all one in the indivisible Oneness of this absolute reality.” In this Oneness, “not only is the Avatar God, but also the ant and the sparrow and one and all of you are nothing but God. The only apparent difference is in their states of consciousness. The Avatar knows that the sparrow is not a sparrow, while the sparrow does not realize this.”

God-Realization is the goal of life. The sign of having achieved it is that one “continuously experiences, without a break, that he is everything and everyone. He is the infinite ocean of Bliss; he is omnipotent and omniscient.” But this achievement is not easily come by. It requires that you forget yourself to the extent that you forget having forgotten. When the false self (ego) is thus renounced, the real Self (God) is found. “It’s as simple as that, though found to be almost impossible.”

There is a way to do the impossible: become dust at the feet of the God-Realized Master. In other words, obey him implicitly, without any question of why or what—even if he ties you up, throws you into the ocean, and commands you not to get wet.

The Avatar is not the only God-Realized being on earth. There are, Baba says, five Perfect Masters on earth at all times. Like the Avatar, a Perfect Master (Sadguru or Qutub) helps others toward the goal and can raise anyone to the highest state with just a glance. Past examples of these rare beings include (according to Meher Baba) John the Baptist, Francis of Assisi, Shankaracharya, Hafiz, Rumi, Kabir, Ramakrishna, and Sai Baba of Shirdi. Those called Majzoobs and Saliks are also God-Realized but do not consciously work for the spiritual welfare of others.

Although they are one in consciousness, there are differences between the Perfect Master and the Avatar. The Perfect Master works spiritually for the benefit of humanity and for a circle of close disciples, whereas the Avatar is for everyone and everything; he gives a spiritual “push” to all of creation and ushers in a new age of spiritual awareness. The Perfect Master is man or woman become God, while the Avatar is God incarnating directly as man. The Perfect Master functions as such only while alive; once having dropped the body, he does not reincarnate and no longer exercises his power. Thus, relatively few seekers get the chance to be guided directly by a Perfect Master. The Avatar, however, takes form again and again, and is available to all as an inner Guide whether he is embodied or not. He represents that aspect of God which is always actively involved in the creation.

“Baba emphatically repeated that one must follow one’s creed or a Perfect Master [or the Avatar], and what lies between is fraught with danger,” wrote Charles Purdom in The God-Man. “What lies between” includes undertaking certain spiritual practices on one’s own. Even worse, perhaps, is entrusting one’s spiritual development to an imperfect or hypocritical teacher. Baba likened this to “making a madman sit on your chest with a sharp instrument in his hand.”

One can eventually enter the Path of Realization through constant remembrance of God, honesty in action, serving others selflessly and making them happy at the cost of one’s own comfort, harming no one, and avoiding submission to low desires, all while living a normal life in the world. The most important of all avenues leading to the Highest can be summed up in one word: love. “The only answer is Love. If we love God, we become Him. There is no further question. But we must love with all our hearts, so that only God exists for us.”

The most practical way to love God is to love the Avatar, who is the embodiment of our own real Self. Baba declares: “To the one who has unfaltering love for the God-man [Avatar], the way to abiding truth is clear and safe. Such a one must waste no time playing with things that do not matter.” Since the Avatar is always one and the same, it doesn’t really matter which of his incarnations one focuses on. However, it makes sense to focus on the Avatar’s most recent advent, because his message is the most powerful and relevant for our time.

For the lovers of Avatar Meher Baba, it is he who is the Divine Beloved, “worthy of being loved because I am Love. He who loves me because of this will be blessed with unlimited sight and will see me as I am.” Yet, Meher Baba adds: “If you cannot accept me as God, that should not worry you. Accept me as your true friend.”

1 comment:

Ken N said...

Kendra,
Thanks for posting this! I found it a perfect intro to Meher Baba, nice balance, concise yet wide ranging.
Also the post on Charles talk very touching. There is a good video of Charles on youtube telling of his experiences with Baba.
Thanks again!
Ken

All quotes of Meher Baba © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust unless otherwise indicated. Writings by Kendra are © Kendra Crossen Burroughs unless otherwise noted.