Avatar Meher Baba (1894-1969)
Meher Baba, the Avatar: "Meher Baba" means "Compassionate Father." It is the name given to their spiritual Master by a group of disciples in the early 1920s when signs of his spiritual status first became apparent. Today, many thousands of people from every religious tradition regard Meher Baba as the one long awaited — the Prophet, the Buddha, the Christ, the Messiah of this age. Most commonly in India he is referred to as the "Avatar," a Sanskrit word meaning "descent of God."
Early life and spiritual awakening: Merwan Sheriar Irani was born to Zoroastrian parents in Poona, a city on the Deccan plateau of India, on 25 February 1894. Though his father had been a dervish or seeker of God, Merwan led a normal childhood until, during his first year of college at the age of 19, he encountered Hazrat Babajan, a centenarian Muslim saint who was one of the five Sadgurus or Perfect Masters of the age. With a kiss on the forehead, Babajan initiated Merwan into the state of God-Realization. He was then inwardly prompted to contact the other four Perfect Masters — Sai Baba of Shirdi, Upasni Maharaj of Sakori, Narayan Maharaj of Kedgaon, and Tajuddin Baba of Nagpur. With the help of Upasni Maharaj, Merwan brought the experience of God's transcendent Oneness down into the domain of duality or creation, thus establishing himself in spiritual perfection.
First ashram and silence: By 1921 Merwan was recognized as a Perfect Master and started to gather his first disciples. After several years of their intensive training, he established Meherabad, an ashram community near Ahmednagar (120 kilometers northeast of Poona). Here his work embraced a free school where spirituality was stressed and a free dispensary and hospital with shelter and food for the poor. On 10 July 1925, Meher Baba began observing silence, which he maintained for a period of nearly forty-four years. His silence was not undertaken as a spiritual exercise, since he was Perfection itself. Rather, it was a limitation that he assumed for the benefit of all creation. For many years, he "spoke" to others by pointing to letters on an alphabet board which a disciple would read out. In 1954, however, he gave up the alphabet board, communicating thereafter through his own system of hand gestures unique and beautiful in their expressiveness.
First travels to the West: The six-year span from 1931 to 1937 was a period of world travel, during which Meher Baba visited Europe ten times, America thrice, and 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.
Work with the God-intoxicated: 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 on the inner planes of the spiritual path who have become spiritually intoxicated from direct awareness of God. While to outward appearances masts often seem to be mad, 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. Again, Meher Baba gave to understand that these actions when performed by the God-Man had an impact not only on those directly concerned but on all humanity.
The New Life: On 16 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 of God. During the next three years he appears to have voluntarily given up his state of Perfect Master in order to embrace the role of Perfect Seeker. This phase culminated in early 1952 with what he called "Manonash" or "annihilation of the mind."
Declaration of Avatarhood: After the New Life phase, Meher Baba resumed contact with his "Old Life" followers and gave his personal touch to the hundreds of thousands who flocked around him during the mass public gatherings of this period. In February 1954 for the first time Meher Baba publicly declared himself to be the Avatar or Christ of the age. The Avatar is the direct descent of God into human form; previous Avatars known to history include Zoroaster, Ram, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed. Many of Meher Baba's most significant messages date from this period — including the "Universal Message," "The Highest of the High," and Meher Baba's Call." God Speaks, Meher Baba's monumental and unparalleled elucidation on the theme of God and creation, was published in 1955.
Centers in the West and automobile accidents: During the 1950s Meher Baba traveled three more times to the West, reestablishing old ties and providing newcomers with the opportunity for his contact. During these visits he stayed at centers in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and in Queensland and New South Wales, Australia that had been prepared for him by his lovers there. He passed through two serious automobile accidents, one in Oklahoma, U.S.A. in 1952 and the other in Satara, India in 1956. As he explained at the time, the Avatar or Christ in all his advents must take physical and spiritual suffering upon himself as a part of the crucifixion which he undergoes for the redemption of humanity. The injuries which Meher Baba sustained particularly from his second automobile accident contributed to the gradual decline in his health over the next decade.
Seclusion and universal work: After 1958 Meher Baba for the most part discontinued his travels and public darshans, withdrawing into an increasingly strict seclusion for the purpose of what he called his "Universal Work." This seclusion work continued throughout the 1960s, broken only at rare intervals by such darshan programs as the East-West Gathering of 1962 and the Poona darshan of 1965.
Physical death: In July of 1968, Meher Baba announced that he had completed his work 100% to his satisfaction. But his health was shattered, and a few months later, on 31 January 1969, he dropped his physical form to live eternally in the hearts of all who love him. In keeping with his prior instructions, his body was interred in the crypt in Meherabad Hill which had been prepared for this purpose thirty years earlier. Today, Meher Baba's Tomb at Meherabad is a site of pilgrimage, and thousands of visitors annually travel from all over the world to pay homage to one whom they regard as the Avatar of the age.
Personality: 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. Encouraging around him an atmosphere of spontaneity and good humor, Meher Baba himself possessed an ease and grace of manner and related himself with no apparent effort and on their own level to people of all types and from all social backgrounds. 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 in suffering. His ability to inspire enduring love and devotion in those whom he contacted has many testimonials, particularly in the lifelong service of close associates through the course of extraordinary hardships.
The path of love: Meher Baba gave no importance to rites, rituals, or 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 but 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, attending faithfully to worldly responsibilities while remembering God or the Master inwardly and dedicating all action to Him. Meher Baba's worldwide following today continues to love and honor him not merely as a great spiritual teacher but as the actual divine Beloved or Manifestation of God in human form. Though in keeping with his wish they have refrained from creating a cult or religion, they maintain the centers that he established in Meherabad in India, at Myrtle Beach in the United States, and in Woombye, Australia, and other centers elsewhere, which host visitors and serve as points for the dissemination of his message of love and truth.
(Above biographical sketch is excerpted from the Avatar Meher Baba Trust (India) website)