Meher Baba (1894–1969), Indian Spiritual Master
(1894–1969), Indian spiritual master.
Meher Baba claimed to be the most recent "avatar," or God-man. He said that Zoroaster, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, and Muhammad were all "avatars," incarnations of God whose appearances on earth each signify the beginning of a new spiritual era. Central to Meher Baba's teachings is the theme of God as the underlying unity behind the apparent diversity of the world, expressed in his saying "We are all One." He described a reincarnation/karma pattern of personal development in which individuals progress spiritually through many lifetimes until they finally achieve full consciousness that their souls and God are one. He deemphasized the importance of formal religious principles, precepts, or techniques in achieving such transcendence and emphasized instead the development of individualized inner relationships between each of his followers and himself through love and the heart wherein he functions as an inner guide. He said, "The voice of intuition is my voice."
Baba began keeping silence in 1926 and remained silent until his death. He communicated first through an alphabet board and later through his own sign language. Baba said, "Things that are real are given and received in silence." In India, Baba conducted mass spiritual programs called darshans, at which large crowds of people would gather to bow down to him and receive his prasad (small gifts of candy or other foods representing spiritual sustenance given to the aspirant from the master). Beginning in the 1930s, a small number of "Baba-lovers" (followers of Meher Baba) began developing in Europe and the United States. After that point Baba made many trips to the West and kept in contact with his Western followers. In 1952 his followers established the "Meher Spiritual Center," a spiritual retreat center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where during the 1950s Baba conducted several "Sahavas" programs (spiritual retreats at which the master lives intimately with his devotees).
Previous to the "hippie" movement, Baba-lovers in the West were middle-aged and relatively few. However, during and following the widespread hippie countercultural trend in the 1960s, Meher Baba's following in the West grew substantially. The initial interest of Western youth in Eastern mysticism was closely tied to the "utopiate" psychedelic scene associated with the hippie movement. It was in fact Richard Alpert (who popularized the use of LSD to achieve a "raised consciousness") and other counter-culture figures, such as rock star Peter Townsend (of the rock band The Who), who initially helped spread Baba's message in the West.
Baba, however, did not condone the use of psychedelic or other drugs, saying that they are "harmful physically, mentally, and spiritually." He also said, "If God can be found through the medium of any drug, God is not worthy of being God." So most of those who wished to follow Baba closely found themselves halting drug use and searching for the true "raised consciousness" associated with realizing the oneness of everyone and everything through love and selfless service.
Thus, although Baba set no precepts in the sense of moral absolutes, he generally discouraged a hedonistic lifestyle, encouraging monogamy, freedom from drugs, and attention to normal family and vocational responsibilities. Baba said, "Do not shirk your responsibilities. Attend faithfully to your worldly duties, but keep always in the back of your mind that all this is Baba's." Consequently, today most Baba-lovers lead outwardly conventional lives, and new Baba-lovers do not necessarily have countercultural or bohemian backgrounds.
Long-term observers estimate that there are five thousand to ten thousand devoted Baba-lovers in the United States, although the exact number is hard to pin down with certainty because the relationship between the aspirant and Baba is very individualized. Baba-lovers don't necessarily participate in a Baba group, and furthermore, membership in such groups is very loosely defined. There are no formal criteria of membership in terms of belief or financial obligation, and anyone who expresses "a sincere personal interest in Meher Baba," however he or she defines such interest, may participate fully in the group.
Groups typically meet about once a week and are democratically organized. Meetings are centered around activities designed to facilitate a sense of inner contact with Baba. These include movies, videos, and music focused on him, listening to people who met Baba reminisce about their times with him, and discussions of Baba's discourses and of personal experiences regarding him as well as how best to follow him, remember him, and love him. Pilgrimages to residential Baba centers in both the United States and India, as well as organized retreats celebrating key holidays commemorating important events in Baba's life, play an important role in the lives of most Baba-lovers.
The Baba movement that emerged out of the counterculture of the sixties seems to have become well rooted, and it shows signs of becoming a long-lasting institution. The movement engages in very little explicit proselytization, and most people get involved through low-key personal contact with members. Nevertheless, once individuals "come to Baba," they tend to remain followers for the long term. Their children tend to become Baba-lovers themselves, and there exists a definite Baba youth movement, centralized in the "Youth Sahavas," yearly retreats for teenage second-generation Baba-lovers. (The web site youthsahavas.com serves as a year-'round communication center for teenage Baba-lovers.) A publishing house, Sheriar Press in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is devoted to printing and distributing books by or about Meher Baba.
Anthony, Dick, and Thomas Robbins. "The Meher Baba Movement: Its Effect on Post-Adolescent Social Alienation." In Religious Movements in Contemporary America, edited by Irving I. Zaretsky and Mark P. Leone. 1974.
Baba, Meher. Discourses. 1995.
Hopkinson, Tom, and Dorothy Hopkinson. Much Silence: Meher Baba, His Life and Work. 1975.