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Avatar Meher Baba, the Compassionate Father

Meher Baba was an Indian spiritual master who was the Avatar, or God in human form, of the age. A major spiritual figure of the 20th century, he had a following of hundreds of thousands of people, mostly in India, but with a significant number in the United States, Europe and Australia. Meher Baba was born to Irani Zoroastrian parents in 1894 in Pune, India. He was named Merwan Sheriar Irani, the second son of Sheriar Irani and Shireen Irani. Sheriar Irani was a Persian Zoroastrian from Khorramshahr who had spent years wandering in search of spiritual experience before settling in Poona (today known as Pune). As a boy, Baba formed the Cosmopolitan Club, which was dedicated to remaining informed on world affairs and donating money to charity. He was a multi-instrumentalist and poet. Fluent in several languages, he was especially fond of the poetry of Hafez, William Shakespeare, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. His spiritual transformation began when he was 19 years old and lasted for seven years. At 19, he met Hazrat Babajan, an elderly Muslim saint. He was cycling past a tree that she had made her abode, when she called to him. When he approached her, she kissed him on the forehead, causing him to enter a nine month-long trance which he described as "divine bliss", with a lack of consciousness of his body. Babajan predicted that he would become a spiritual leader. He then encountered Upasni Maharaj, who he later said helped him to integrate his mystical experiences with ordinary consciousness, thus enabling him to function in the world without diminishing his experience of God-realization. Over the next several years, he encountered other spiritual figures, namely Tajuddin Baba, Narayan Maharaj, and Sai Baba of Shirdi, who, along with Babajan and Upasni Maharaj, Baba later said were the five "Perfect Masters" of the age. By early 1922, at the age of 27, Baba began gathering his own disciples. They gave him the name Meher Baba, which meant "compassionate father".

The six-year span from 1931 to 1937 was a period of world travel, during which Meher Baba visited Europe ten times, America thrice, as well as China and the Far East. While some of His visits drew press coverage and fanfare, His purpose in coming to the West, as He explained at the time, was “not with the object of establishing new creeds or spiritual societies and organizations” but rather “to make people understand religion in the true sense.” This, He continued, entailed “developing that attitude of mind which should ultimately result in seeing One Infinite Existence prevailing throughout the universe,” in attending to worldly responsibilities while remaining detached from results, in seeing “the same Divinity in art and science,” and in experiencing “the highest Consciousness and Indivisible Bliss in everyday life.” A core group of close Western disciples was attracted to Him at this time, and the integration of Eastern and Western perspectives in the light of a transcendent spiritual Truth has remained an enduring characteristic and appeal of His message.

In the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s Meher Baba’s work took a new turn, focusing increasingly on His personally contacting and serving persons whom He called “masts.” Masts are advanced souls experiencing the inner planes of the spiritual path who have become spiritually intoxicated from direct awareness of God. While to outward appearances masts might seem to be unbalanced, in actuality they are vast reservoirs of spiritual light and as such were useful to Meher Baba in His spiritual mission. Throughout the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent, from small hamlets to large cities, by train or bullock cart or even on foot, Meher Baba traveled in search of these individuals, whom He would feed, bathe, and sit with in seclusion. Another aspect of His work at this time and, indeed, throughout His life involved bathing lepers, washing the feet of the poor, bowing down to these unfortunate ones, and giving them grain, cloth, and money. Meher Baba explained that when the God-Man served these souls it had an impact not only on those directly concerned but on all humanity.

After carefully preparing for this major life change, on 16th October 1949, Meher Baba dissociated Himself from the places, possessions, and connections that He had maintained until that time and embarked on what He called a “New Life” of complete helplessness and hopelessness in total reliance on God. He temporarily put aside His authority as a Perfect Master to become the Perfect Seeker of God on behalf of all humanity. This work was resolved through the inevitable solution of “Manonash” or “annihilation of the mind.”, which culminated in early 1952 at Meherazad, Meher Baba’s new residence north of Ahmednagar.

For the most part, after 1958 Meher Baba discontinued His travels and public darshans, focusing more on His “Universal Work” on the higher spiritual planes, which He would do in strict seclusion. This work continued throughout the 1960s becoming increasingly strict through 1968.

From 10 July 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.

Meher Baba had a magnetic, indeed, captivating personality whose appeal was evident not only in intimate settings but before large crowds. Many who met Him, both followers and otherwise, have commented particularly on the quality of His eyes and glance. An atmosphere of spontaneity and good humor naturally manifested in His presence and Meher Baba Himself possessed an ease and grace of manner, relating Himself with no apparent effort to all types of people on their own levels. Though fire and force of character played a role in the discipline which He required of His disciples, His usual disposition was compassionate and gentle, particularly toward those who were suffering. There are many testimonials to His ability to inspire enduring love and devotion particularly in the examples of lifelong service of close associates who stayed the course through extraordinary hardships.

Meher Baba declared that He had come not to teach but to awaken. Nevertheless, His various messages and books, particularly ‘God Speaks’ and ‘the Discourses’, present a definite and coherent cosmology. God, as He explained, is the sole Reality, and the created universe exists only in dream or imagination. The dream of creation originated in the Whim of God to know Himself. This precipitated an evolution of consciousness in which the “drop-soul” (or jeevatma), identifying with innumerable physical forms and thereby growing in conscious experience, progressed from stone and metal through varied species of the vegetable, worm, fish, bird, and animal kingdoms.

Meher Baba gave no importance to rites, rituals, or religious ceremonies, but attached the highest significance to love for God. Divine love, He said, recognizes no barrier of caste, creed, religion, race, sex, or nationality, as it spreads directly from heart to heart. Affirming the validity of all paths to God if sincerely followed, Meher Baba directed His own disciples and followers to lead simple, natural lives of love and honesty, attending faithfully to worldly responsibilities while remembering God or the Master inwardly and dedicating all action to Him.

The Discourses are a collection of explanations and elucidations that Meher Baba has given on many topics that concern the advancement of the spiritual aspirant. Some of the most important topics treated are: sanskaras (mental impressions), Maya (the principle of illusion), the nature of the ego, reincarnation, karma, violence and non-violence, meditation, love, discipleship, and God-realization. His explanations often include stories from the lore of India and the Sufi culture. One such story, the wise man and the ghost, shows the power that superstitious beliefs can have on a person, while another, Majnun and Layla, show how selfless love, even in human relations, can lead one to discipleship. Thus Meher Baba offers many suggestions that keep one moving towards God-realization. These suggestions include putting theory into practice, the internal renunciation of desires, offering selfless service to humanity or the master, spontaneity, while avoiding actions that bind one to illusion. But rather than lay out moral rules, Baba offers an understanding as to why some actions bind the individual whereas some others help towards his emancipation. Many chapters offer a better understanding of the mechanisms by which consciousness gets caught up between the opposites of experience, such as pleasure and pain, good and evil, and point to a way of transcending them.

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