Merwan Irani was born into a Zoroastrian family in Pune. He came to be known as Meher Baba, meaning ‘compassionate father’. His parents had come to India from Iran. He received a British education in Catholic schools and then at the Deccan College.
Between the ages of 17 and 27 he associated with persons renowned as ‘Spiritual Masters’. He spent several years serving as a disciple of these Masters. They gave him profound experiences which made him conscious of his divinity. In the early 1920s they proclaimed him as Avatar, meaning ‘descent of God into human form’, the equivalent of Jesus Christ or Buddha.
PHOTOS ABOVE: Meher Baba's Spiritual Masters
Following on from the Masters’ endorsement of his spiritual status, in 1921, aged 27, Meher Baba gathered his own disciples. He undertook hands-on work in Pune and Mumbai amongst the poor and disadvantaged. He called this ‘Mastery in Servitude’.
By 1925, Meher’s free schools, dispensary and hospital were caring for thousands of lepers, persons with mental afflictions or illnesses and the homeless. The main centre of these activities, called Meherabad, was in one of the poorest areas of rural India, near the city of Ahmednagar.
He journeyed for many years over the Indian subcontinent. This included a period of living and travelling in complete obscurity in what he called the New Life – a phase of complete renunciation of all homage or material security.
Meher Baba began lifelong silence in 1925. He said that “you have asked for and been given enough words – it is now time to live them” and that “things that are real are given and received in silence”. After 1925 his messages were dictated by means of an alphabet board and later through hand gestures. In this manner he oversaw the production of his books, which include Discourses (1939) God Speaks (1955), Life At Its Best (1957), and Beams (1958).
From the 1930s Meher Baba was known to a few spiritual seekers in the West, and there arose small groups of devotees in England, America and Australia. During the 1930s and again in the 1950s he made extensive visits to Europe, the USA, Australia, and some parts of Asia to meet and give guidance to his followers.
Meher Baba’s teachings
Meher Baba’s cosmology is fully explained in his book God Speaks.
He taught that all souls are actually One, and that any apparent differences are due to their differing levels of consciousness and experience. The universe emerged from what Baba called God’s “original whim” to know himself. God (the soul) found infinite ways to do this by constantly evolving and dissolving worlds, life forms and spiritual states. Baba said that each soul is unconsciously God gradually becoming more self-aware through evolution. He explained that over millions of years, on numerous planets, souls evolve by taking a physical form – moving from gas to mineral, plant, invertebrate, bird and mammal forms, culminating in human beings. This evolutionary process creates a ‘false ego’ consisting of inclinations that must be tediously ‘unwound’ through reincarnation. Eventually the soul realizes its divinity through these stages of spiritual unfoldment, culminating in the soul living eternally as God in all of, and beyond, the universe.
According to Meher Baba, there is a spiritual hierarchy of many advanced souls, saints and Masters, headed by the Avatar or God-man - the very first soul to have attained God. Every 700 – 1400 years, when conditions are at their worst, the Avatar is brought into physical form by five Masters. The Avatar is not initially widely recognized, but nevertheless lightens the suffering of the world and gives it a ‘push forward’. Each Avatar maps out a path to God-realization suited to the times. Baba identified Zoroaster, Abraham, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed as ‘Advents’ of this ever present Avatar. He taught that the easiest and quickest path to spiritual growth is in loving and obeying one’s Master, most especially the Avatar, the ever present principle or source behind the universe.
Meher Baba said: “I lay down no precepts”. He taught that “Approach to Truth is individual”, and that “real happiness lies in making others happy”. Meher Baba’s followers aim to live in a loving and selfless manner, because Meher Baba emphasised that love- especially love of God- is “the solution to our difficulties and problems.” They try to remember the God-man, the Avatar, in poetry and song. They try to love the “God in others”.
Meher Baba had no desire to establish temples, ashrams or organizations. The movement therefore has no central authority or means of identifying who is or isn’t a follower. Many interested in Meher Baba have nevertheless formed autonomous centres and interest groups with meetings, festivals, charitable endeavours, publication of Baba focussed literature, and drug education. Meher Baba was one of the earliest spiritual teachers to identify the damage that is caused by the use of hallucinogenic and recreational drugs, even when used as part of a supposedly spiritual quest. Apart from the centres and groups, many other Baba Lovers prefer to follow him privately.
Many Baba followers like to visit Baba’s tomb in Meherabad, and his most recent home (also near Ahmednagar) called Meherazad. The closest disciples whose lives were closely directed by Baba were called ‘mandali’. Many of these mandali were living in Meherabad and Meherazad until recent years. There are still a few people living in and near Meherabad and Meherazad who had direct contact with Meher Baba, and many who were close to the mandali. Pilgrims set a high value on the stories that these close ones tell of their lives with Baba and his mandali.
Meher Baba in Australia
There has been a group of Australian Meher Baba devotees since the 1940s. Most of the early followers emerged from a group studying the teachings of the Indian Sufi teacher, Inayat Khan. This group was originally led by the Baron von Frankenberg, and later by his nominated successor Francis Brabazon. The leader of this Sufi group in the US sent the Baron copies of Meher Baba’s Discourses. He was greatly impressed, and passed them on to Francis Brabazon. The Baron encouraged and paid for Francis to go to the US to meet Meher Baba. Francis was profoundly affected by this experience, and immediately recognized Meher Baba’s spiritual status.
After the Baron’s death in 1950 the focus of the Sufi study shifted to Meher Baba. There were groups in Sydney and Melbourne. Newer followers came who did not have the Sufi background. Francis Brabazon nurtured a hope that one day Baba would visit Australia. He lived on a property in Beacon Hill, previously bought with money from the Baron. Baba Lovers would meet with him there and work with him as he set about building a suitable house to accommodate the longed for visit. In 1956 their hopes were realized. Baba stayed there for a few days, and also briefly visited Melbourne. The house at Beacon Hill was from then known as Meher House, and is still the focus of the Sydney Baba group.
In 1958 there was news that Meher Baba would again visit Australia. This time Baba suggested either Sydney or Queensland for the gathering. The visit was to be in June, and Francis thought the warmer Queensland climate would be kinder, and he was also conscious of the advantage of having a second property in Australia blessed by the presence of Meher Baba the Avatar.
Francis was a published poet. He knew the poet Judith Wright who lived in Queensland. She suggested that Buderim might be a possible location. So Francis came to this area, now known as the Sunshine Coast. He was shown this property at Kiel Mountain which he immediately recognised as suitable. He cabled a long description to Meher Baba who endorsed the purchase.
With the help of many from the Sydney and Melbourne groups, Francis was able to have the building which is now known as Baba’s House ready for the visit. Meher Baba stayed here for four days with a small group of his close Indian disciples. The Australian ‘Baba Lovers’, as they now called themselves, also stayed on the property – the women in the original farmhouse and the men in tents. Meher Baba gave the property its name Avatar’s Abode, and said that in the future it would become one of the great places of pilgrimage in the world.
In the late 60s, the New Age movement raised in the West an interest in Eastern spirituality. Ideas such as karma and reincarnation became commonplace in popular culture. In Australia, as in America, this brought in a new wave of spiritual seekers, some of whom came to follow Meher Baba.